“I had all the characteristics of a human being—flesh, blood, skin, hair—but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that my normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning.”
Originally published in 1991, Bret Easton Ellis‘ mystery slasher/crime book, American Pyscho, follows 26-year-old Patrick Bateman, a young, handsome and wealthy investment banking executive from New York who has a beautiful fiancée, a secretary who is in love with him, and everything a man of his age could only dream of. Yet Bateman remains indistinguishable from his Wall Street colleagues. That is, apart from one thing: Bateman is a psychotic serial killer, delving deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies as his everyday routine becomes more and more mundane. Fueled by materialism and envy, Bateman’s murderous impulses and thirst for blood is sharpened as he steps up his homicidal activities to a frenzied pitch. But how much can he get away with?
The following post is a review of only the book. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Told in the first person by Patrick Bateman, American Pyscho is a detailed narrative account of the repetitiveness of everyday life – from getting dressed in the morning, to going to work, to eating out and aimlessly getting through they year – combined with intensely detailed scenes of sex, torture, and murder.
Beginning as a repetitive sequence of Bateman’s outings with his colleagues at new and ‘hip’ restaurants and clubs, meeting ‘hard body’ girls, snorting coke in the toilets, talking about designer clothes and the celebrities they bump into, returning to work the next day only to see who can afford the better-designed business card, we are soon interrupted by episodes of psychopathic violence.
And when I say violence, I don’t mean your typical slasher splurges; American Pyscho goes all out as one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. Yet somehow, Ellis manages to get away with the lengths that he goes to with his leading character.
On one hand, Bateman is your everyday Wall Street guy – he’s materialistic, vain, and far too rich for his own good – but, on the other hand, he likes to violently mutilate and kill anybody that gets on the wrong side of him. Because of this, instead of coming across as a pompous idiot, Bateman comes across as somehow admirable.
I don’t know how Ellis did it, but readers love Patrick Bateman. The way he goes about his life is only the beginning of the ongoing joke; he gets other people confused and is often mistaken for others himself because everybody blends in as one. We all feel, at times, that we do the same thing every day, that we have the same jobs and same hobbies, and follow the same fashions and eat the same food, blah blah blah. But Bateman does something about it.
And you do have to laugh, because if you didn’t read American Pyscho as a very, very, VERY black comedy, then you would be seriously worried about what’s going on in Ellis’ mind. It helps that Bateman is so likeable, as you do find yourself laughing at and almost praising his mindset, even if you’re completely repulsed by him only a few minutes later.
But because of this repetitiveness and extensive detail, American Pyscho can be a hard read at times. With Bateman constantly name dropping brands of clothing by detailing what/who people are wearing every time he bumps into somebody, and whole chapters dedicated to his new favourite artist, the length of some paragraphs, which can often go on for more than a page, is an initial shock. But as you make your way through it and get past the occasionally difficult chapters, American Pyscho isn’t as much hard work as you would first think, and is easy to fly through by the end as you become more and more invested in Bateman’s character.
And then comes the massive twist at the end, which means that the book can be interpreted in many different ways. Should we be glad that it was all in his head? Or should we be worried that, if he did really kill all of those people, he got away with it because nobody cared enough?
It’s not often that we can enjoy such an unreliable narrator, as it can be difficult to know where to place our trust, which is usually all we want from the person telling the story, but Bateman’s unreliability makes this book even more enjoyable.
American Pyscho certainly isn’t for everybody, and it will shock even those who like a good murder mystery with some outright disturbing descriptions and many uses of the C-bomb and F-word, and every letter in between, but if you feel like you need something completely messed up to help you make sense of the world, then this is what you need to be reading.
American Psycho was adapted into a film in 2000, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: