Friday, 16 July 2010

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman is a designer suit wearing, Zagat guide toting, cigar clenching Wall Street banker with a bloodlust so furious it causes him to chop people up (to put it tamely). He lives in a world full of vacant, vapid and vacuous characters who constantly mistake him for other Wall Street suits (and whom he can barely tell apart) and no matter how many useless designer things he buys, episodes of The Patty Winters Show he watches, reservations he makes at trendy restaurants or girls he tortures and kills, he remains totally unsatisfied and restless. His voice is that of a frantic madman in a soulless void (and often reminded me of one of Hunter s Thompson’s characters; i.e. insane, on drugs, constantly becoming anxious and fretful as a result of ‘normal’ social interactions).

Ellis uses tedious repetition, adsurdism and extreme juxtaposition to illustrate this satire of early 1990s New York. His detailed and ridiculous descriptions of food, music and clothing create a pretentious world full of superficial clowns and court jesters, none of whom are ever listening to one another (as evidenced by the constant admissions of psychopathic thoughts and urges by Bateman, which his peers ignore/don’t hear). Yes, the violence is maddening but it is my opinion that any book which inspires emotion, raw & deeply moving, serves its purpose. Ellis obviously has a pretty dark mind but even though he described the book as being an ‘exorcism’ of his own feelings and frustrations, I don’t think it is entirely gratuitous. A very bleak and serious point is being made about consumerism and ‘yuppie’ culture, and human beings’ stifled ability to connect with one another in the modern world.

I went to see Bret Easton Ellis do a bit of a talk and Q&A about American Psycho last night, in association with the Guardian Book Club. It was really enlightening to hear him speak about such a harrowing work – about his writing process, the motivations behind his novels, and the fact that he has only recently (20 odd years after its publication) been able to come to terms with what the book was about (himself) and lower the barrier of constant defensiveness which he’s barricaded himself behind for a long time. A lot of people asked him ‘why’ questions: “why did you write it this way?” “Why did you decide to have him do that?” etc., which I found somewhat tedious and which poor Ellis simply couldn’t answer apart from with a repeated “it just felt right that way”. I think one of the great things about American Psycho is its ambiguity. Is Patrick Bateman as attractive as he claims? Does he really commit all these heinous acts, or is it simply a nightmare going on inside his head? I want these questions to remain unanswered: that’s the intrigue of it.

While American Psycho is by no means for the faint-hearted, it is a comedy of the blackest degree and a literary force to be reckoned with.

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