Friday, 10 April 2009

American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis

Read: March 2006

You know, I didn’t really enjoy American Psycho. There is nothing I find less rewarding than novels which supposedly get inside the mind of a maniac. They are usually contrite and dull, the plot leading inextricably towards some cataclysmic ending which has been predictable from page one.

But there is something about American Psycho that sets it apart from its contemporaries. In the two and a half years since I read American Psycho it has steadily grown in my estimation. Partly this is because it is crammed with incredibly funny satire. In some strange way it is like Red Dwarf in the deft manner it slices through 1980’s culture. And while Red Dwarf targets the Perrier drinkers of the middle classes, for Brett Easton Ellis it is those obsessed with Les Miserables. I cannot think about or hear the musical without laughing quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – to myself. Patrick Bateman, you see, is obsessed with Les Miserables, particularly the British Cast Recording which he rates as far superior to its American counterpart. He mentions it consistently, to the point of total ridicule.

There are so many little humorous japes scattered throughout American Psycho that it is difficult not to look on it warmly. The way Bateman can name the designer of every piece of clothing someone is wearing but not remember anyone’s actual name; the long turgid chapters in which he waxes lyrical on his favourite bands; – Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News! – his fear of visiting the video rental shop; and the geekish pride in what is now completely out-of-date audio visual technology. It is all very, very funny. All these subtle hilarities combine to create a razor-sharp farce which hacks the 1980’s yuppy culture to bits, more viciously than any of Bateman’s murderous fantasies. It is all subtly done, and in my idiocy I missed much of it as I blundered through the plot. And because of that, I really didn’t enjoy it much. But the ending is one of those endings which brings all that has preceded it into a different light. As the world Patrick Bateman dreams up around him slowly merges with the real world the impression begins to dawn on the reader that he may not be all he professes himself to be.

Despite being littered with murder, rape, insanity and police chases, Amerian Psycho is as erotic as pornography, disturbing as a walk in the woods, exciting as being stuck in a traffic jam. Reading it I was just a little bored. In his Generation X nihilism, Brett Easton Ellis is not trying to entertain, but to ridicule. For the character of Patrick Bateman is based loosely on his father, a fact which gives weight and passion to the targeted absurdity.

In hindsight American Psycho is a hilarious, subtle and intelligently characterised novel. Everything I have identified as a weakness is a deliberate plot or character device, there is nothing which has not been carefully considered. While it is not my favourite type of book, its subtlety is so carefully hidden behind a big bludgeoning battering ram than I have huge respect for its achievement. Brett Easton Ellis will never be as good a writer as his good friend Donna Tartt, but then few people are and in American Psycho, he delivers exactly what literature needs: a huge hammer blow which is both intensely cool and at the same time full of subtle substance.

6.5 out of 10

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