American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – Reviewed by Guy Portman
American Psycho is a highly controversial novel that brought its young author Bret Easton Ellis instant fame. The book is written from the perspective of a young Wall Street financier, Patrick Bateman. Patrick is intelligent, well educated, wealthy and good looking, in addition to being a psychopath.
The anti-hero’s bland narcissistic existence revolves around activities such as fretting over dinner bookings at a host of Manhattan’s finest eateries, a rigorous and very particular fitness regime, a dizzying array of beauty products and an underlying obsession with materialism, particularly clothing; his own and others. Patrick’s relationship with his numerous hedonistic male and female friends and acquaintances is characterised by a universal shallowness, including that with long-time girlfriend Evelyn.
As the book progresses we are drawn into the mindset of a killer plagued by periods of psychosis and an increasingly voracious appetite for debauchery on an epic scale, which includes torture, mutilation and murder. At times the narrative is truly horrific in its unrelenting scope for savagery, barbarity and misogyny. Yet the book is often humorous, particularly the numerous comical scenes in which Patrick attempts unsuccessfully to shock people. Examples of this include asking for a ‘decapitated coffee’ and when referring to mergers and acquisitions as ‘murders and executions’. The dark comedy lies not merely in the clever word play, but also in the fact that the parties concerned remain utterly oblivious to what is actually being said.
Essentially the book can be viewed as a satire of the yuppies culture of the 1980s, as it is evident that the author is commenting on society’s obsession with the meaningless and trivial, such as our obsession with fashion accessories. American Psycho is a fascinating, complex, bleak and often comical book that allows one to gain an understanding of the inner workings of a psychopath, whilst at the same time questioning the very essence of capitalist culture.