9 May 2012

Literary review - Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho'

Published: 1991 
Basic plot: American Psycho is psychological thriller and satirical novel. The story is told in first person by Patrick Bateman, a serial killer and Manhattan businessman. The book's graphic violence and sexual content generated a great deal of controversy before and after publication. 

I first became interested in American Psycho when people in my literature seminars were comparing the actions of protagonist Patrick Bateman with Humbert Humbert in Lolita. We were discussing sympathy with a character that goes against all our beliefs and understanding of morality. Very simplistically, Lolita's great taboo and controversy concerns pedophilia, and American Psycho's concerns the sadistic and perverse detail into which Ellis describes murder and torture. After having read it (this conversation sparked my interest) I have to say I have no sympathy for Patrick Bateman, but this doesn't mean I didn't enjoy aspects of the novel. Ellis' depiction of yuppie Wall Street culture, in which surface appearance is everything, and substance (or whether your a serial killer in your spare time) is ignored, is rewarding to read. Obsession with clothes and labels, pretentious and odd cuisine and the extremity of wealth were motifs that occurred with unbelievable regularity, but so well written, I did believe it. This novel is sadistically funny, which takes away it's dark edge. But this is what I have to say about the first 200 pages or more, and then it got pointless. It felt shocking for the sake of being shocking, chapters describing horrific torture that had no artistic purpose. Don't think I'm not one for a bit of twisted darkness, I absolutely love Dexter, I enjoy watching murder documentaries, and I love horror movies. But American Psycho's darkness is futile, too raw for the reader to engage with anything emotional or psychological. Going back to Lolita, the subject is just as controversial, but in Humbert Humbert does feel emotion, remorse, love, and therefore some readers are able to feel sympathy which Ellis does not create. But perhaps we shouldn't have sympathy for a serial killer. It's an interesting topic to discuss. Overall I think that the first half of the novel is worth reading, but if your squeamish (and even if your not) avoid all chapters entitled 'GIRLS' or 'RAT'.

No comments:

Post a Comment