I originally tried to read Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho about three or four years ago and wasn’t put off by the murder but by the monotone never ending first fifty pages of meals in ‘the’ restaurants of New York, labels, meetings, same looking crowds, meals, labels. You get the gist. This time round though I managed it (partly because it was a book group read) all, only I also discovered this does in fact go on for more like 150 pages but do bare with it, because I do indeed think everyone should read this book once, for its unlikely you could a second time, in their lifetime. It is an unusual and uncomfortable masterpiece.
Our protagonist Patrick Bateman seems on the outside normal, materialist but normal. Working on Wall Street in the middle of the 1980’s he is obsessed with labels, the best restaurants and business cards. In fact he is so obsessed by business cards that he almost breaks down and cries when someone has a better, edgier and more minimalistic card than his. Through small glimmers like these we realise that we might not be dealing with any ordinary man, we are in fact dealing with a murderous psychopath who is happiest when he is slashing throats.
Patrick takes us through his materialistic life and shows us the selfishness, wastefulness and greed of the people in his life that he is friends with, works with and dates. His self obsessed girlfriend Evelyn is a superb character who I loved to loath throughout the book. It’s in these characters that we see what the time of the yuppie and their shallowness, these people are so shallow in fact that they don’t notice when people they know go missing or when the murder rate in New York City is spiralling, they certainly don’t notice the murderer amongst them.
Bret Easton Ellis must have a way with words because though the first 150 pages are repetitive and monotonous I couldn’t stop reading. Also anyone who can get away with chapters on the chart movements and history of the likes of Genesis and Whitney Houston and somehow make you read them is doing a good job. The murders are of course horrific, in some cases so graphic I had to pause and take a breath before I could continue. What’s clever is in making the rest of the world so chrome, bland and slightly grey when the murders happen not only do they seem shocking ten fold, there is a huge clash of images in your head doubly hitting the point home.
To say that I enjoyed this novel seems wrong. However in a strange way I found it very compelling and in some parts darkly funny. I think this is a must read and strongly believe this will be a classic in future generations. I won’t pick this book up again (though you never know) but I am so glad that I finally pushed through the difficult start and finished this on the second try.