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A Superbly Written Dark Piece of Fiction
American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis
Member Name: Daffydill
American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis
Advantages: A cleverly written, dark novel, no writer could create a shock factor like the rat scene did!
Disadvantages: Gratuitous amounts of sex and violence, confused plot and characters hard to follow.
Most will have heard of the widespread talk that surrounds American Psycho, either as a film or a book. I have not seen the 2000 adaptation which stars Christian Bale, so my thoughts are based entirely on the book I have just read.
American Psycho was written by Bret Easton Ellis in 1991, and looks at the preppy American society in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The book's protagonist is Patrick Bateman, a 26 year old 'totally GQ' man who by day works in Wall Street for an investment company and by night is a serial womaniser and torturer. The book is told by Bateman himself, allowing us inside the mind of this clearly dark and troubled individual.
The book begins gently, Patrick Bateman seems like a 'fairly normal' individual of the late 1980s, well as normal as could be given the circumstances, incredibly wealthy and funding a cocaine habit Bateman aims to be noticed. His obsession with his and other's physiques is evident from the start as well as his obsession with what those close to him wear and wear they choose to socialise. Ellis does exceptionally well in getting into the mind of someone who is clearly psychologically disturbed, in fact I would be surprised if Ellis himself had never come into close contact with psychosis in one form or another. The way he describes each individual components of a character's outfit does at times seem a little autistic, and the sometimes lack of a bigger picture or general aura of what is in the room is typical of someone suffering from one form of a mental health disorder. Bateman's character seems to become more vacant as the pages turn, his lack of knowledge of the names of many of his victims and descriptions more often of victim's bodies and not faces also makes the reader disconnected from those being tortured, which possibly reflects what is going through Bateman's mind as a character. Even though the book is told from Bateman's view, I never felt I got to know Bateman's character until towards the end of the book, where his flaws are finally revealed to Bateman himself.
The build-up to the actual torture is gradual and I was probably about a third of the way into the book before this issue really seemed to gain momentum. However, once the torture starts there is little stopping it and this snowballs to the dramatic and gratuitously gruesome chapter involving the rat and the girl. It is a chapter once read that will never be forgotten. No chapter has ever made me gag, and make my stomach turn like the one in American Psycho, this is some feat for someone who has dealt with blood and guts on a daily basis. I would personally argue that some of the torture scenes are too much, and go on too long, but it seems that it is this shock factor that caused the large number of sales and film release that followed this book. This is not a book that I felt I could read before bed, as I didn't want the images of torture invading my dreams, nor did I feel comfortable reading this book whilst eating due to its stomach turning properties.
As far as the plot goes, I found the book lacked real structure, particularly after the rat scene, the ending for me lacked any form of closure, and has in fact left me confused to what is happening to Bateman and where he is going. The chapters where Bateman reviews various areas of culture such as Huey and the News don't work for me, although it sets the scene for the culture of the time, I really don't see how this added to the plot or development of the book. I can be at times a bit of a passive reader, so some things I may miss first time round, and I regularly reread chapters to understand what is going on. However, I felt too many characters were introduced too quickly, not aided by characters calling other characters by the wrong names, and trying to keep up with Patrick Bateman's love life was a task in itself. Neither did I feel that many of these characters had much chance to develop save Jean.
Bateman does have a girlfriend throughout the book, Evelyn, however I felt his assistant Jean was the closest Bateman came to a loving relationship, and seemed to be the only female character he respected through the book, who he wasn't using to further his sexual endeavours.
Did I enjoy American Psycho? Well no, I can't say I did. However the 384 pages in front of me is an important work of a fiction, and should not be ignored. The brilliance of Ellis' writing, the ability to get inside the mind of a troubled man such as Patrick Bateman should be praised. The writing is certainly dark, but the theme of a society based on the materialistic can never function properly. We must look deeper, and not just take to what is on the surface and the worldly goods one owns to be what our lives are based upon. Due to the recent events over the past weeks Ellis could still teach our society a thing or two twenty years on.
Summary: Five star shock factor, two star story.