Friday 14 February 2014

'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman - successful, rich, stylish, serial killer. Surrounded by fashion conscious twenty-somethings who care about little besides going to the latest, coolest clubs and restaurants and looking good. On every page there are details about what designer they are wearing, (and comments on them all looking fundamentally the same) their Zagat restaurant guide always close to hand. They have no character, no concept of the world beyond their social circle of interchangeable yuppies who are constantly mistaken for others. Completely self-obsessed, they don't bat an eyelid when Bateman casually mentions his psychotic behaviour. 

The narrative jumps around, reflecting the manic, obsessive, fractured state of his mind. We go from horrifically graphic scenes of torture and murder to long passages about music or endless banal lunches and dinners. Occasionally near the end it slips from first person to third person narrative, suggesting a distinction in the way he views the various aspects of his character. As the novel draws to its close you get a stronger sense of the mental torture he experiences. The reader gets a sense of his feeling of futility in life, of his need to be accepted and to make some sense of the world. The deeply disturbing side to his character is ever present, his need to hurt people hidden just beneath his well polished exterior. There's a real sense of his need to be heard in this world of endless consumerism.

There are some truly gruesome scenes, described in minute detail, making this not a book for the faint of heart. However, with its well-written protagonist agonising with a mix of disgust with the world he inhabits and a desperation to fit in, and full of dark humour, there's a lot more to this than the violent scenes it is famous for. The reader is left wondering if the murders really happened or if they are actually merely vivid figments of an unstable mind.

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