Few novels have seen such a reversal in public opinion as American Psycho. It received such vehement opposition prior to its launch in 1991 that its release was almost cancelled. Critics at the time weren’t any kinder either, with many failing to grasp its humorous undercurrent and consequently bashing out scathing diatribes by the bucketload.
Bret Easton Ellis’s seminal novel is now widely considered a modern classic, a masterclass in postmodern penmanship. I have to say I agree.
(Spoilers from here on in.)
The novel itself is less to do with story and more to do with our protagonist Patrick Bateman and the small, small world in which he lives. Bateman is a Wall Street yuppie, who got his education from Harvard and now works at P&P in Murders and Executions, mostly.
But unbeknown to his colleagues, who all look and dress the same, Bateman is a lion amongst zebras. He is a cannibalistic, murdering psychopath. He kicks to death stray dogs by day, and sheds the skin of prostitutes by night – boiling and eating it afterwards. He is also effortlessly charming, has moviestar good looks and can “fuck any hardbody” he wants.
At least, this is what he tells us. The truth may not be such, as Bateman is one of literature’s best examples of the unreliable narrator. Is it boasting or is it gross exaggeration? This is what Ellis wants us to consider, and though he never truly clarifies whether what his protagonist says is true, by the end of the novel it’s safe to assume that at least some of what he says is complete folly.
Perhaps the defining aspect of the novel, though, is just how funny it is. Whether it’s following up an extremely graphic torture scene with a long, in-depth analysis of Whitney Huston’s entire discography, or his near implosion when he realises his colleagues have nicer business cards than him, the novel is just littered with flagrant satire and jarring juxtapositions that serve to remind that what Ellis is really doing here is taking the piss in the best way possible.
In a few words…
A brilliant, if extremely graphic, satire on modern culture that is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
(My thoughts on the screen adaptation coming up next.)