Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Rating: 1 Star
Dates read: 02 Mar 18 – 17 Mar 18
Publication date: Mar 1991
Genre(s): Thriller, Crime, Horror
Patrick Bateman is twenty-six and works on Wall Street; he is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath. Taking us to a head-on collision with America’s greatest dream – and its worst nightmare – American Psycho is a bleak, bitter, black comedy about a world we all recognize but do not wish to confront.
American Psycho is one of the most controversial and talked-about novels of all time – a multimillion-copy bestseller hailed as a modern classic.
This review features spoilers, and discusses some of the graphic themes that feature within the book, so please be warned that there will be uncomfortable scenes and discussions, as well as major plot points mentioned throughout, and that this post will not be suitable for those under 18.
Have you ever read a book that was so bad that you instantly decided that this would be the benchmark to which you would compare every awful book you read for the rest of your life? Well, for me this book is it. I really didn’t like it, in fact, I would go as far as to say I hate it. Everyone I spoke to warned me about it, from friends to fellow bloggers to family members, and I wilfully ignored them all and decided to sit through hours of an audiobook, attempting to tolerate it just to say that I didn’t DNF it.
Everything about this book is detestable. The characters are vile examples of humanity in almost every sense, and the world in which they live is the worst example of white privilege. The truly horrendous acts that are ‘committed’ throughout are unnecessarily gratuitous throughout. Even the constant reminder of expensive brands, ridiculous routines, and up market restaurants become tiring quickly, and rather than stopping (we get it, after the first page the point is 100% made).
I was going to attempt to right a spoiler review for this book, like I try to with all my reviews, but in this case there are some bits I need to talk about that will ruin it. So, let’s start light and work our way in, shall we? Also, before we get down to the nitty gritty, if you’re eating I might suggest you put it down or read this later, I’m sure you’ll thank me.
Patrick Bateman is horrible, vile, sadistic, and one of the worst characters I have had the displeasure to read about. Sadly, the book is based around his life and interactions. He and his friends are materialistically driven, every time we’re introduced to anyone new we get a run down on their outfit (the textures, materials, colours, and brands EVERY SINGLE BLOODY TIME). At first, I thought this was a quirk to highlight the thought process of Bateman, but nope, it carried on for 400 odd pages. If Ellis had reduced this somewhat, the book would have been a much more reasonable length. The characters are frequently confused about who is who, which person they have met or seen, which makes it quite difficult as a reader to keep tabs on who is who. Again, I think this is a point that the author is making, but along with the brand dropping it is frustrating to the max.
I’m not really about an excessive lifestyle. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t indulge in drugs, I rarely eat out, and I don’t frequent expensive club, so the lifestyle that Bateman and his friends are leading is both alien and repugnant. And that is almost all the book is. He is sleazy beyond anything I’ve read about, he and his friends are nothing short of creepy (as a polite descriptor). None of the women in the book deserve the treatment they get, but in a way are equally as vile as the male characters. They don’t have redeeming qualities, and although they’re not out raping and murdering, they’re not exactly nice people.
The story? Well, it makes the characters look pleasant. It all centres around Bateman and his life on Wall Street. It describes his relationships with co-workers, influential types, women, friends, romantic partners, and follows his path of mental and physical destruction on the quest for better highs, better deals, in a world of increasing madness. The true side of Bateman unfurls fairly slowly to begin with, the bloody sheets in the Chinese cleaners, and off hand thoughts of raping women with hair spray cans suggesting how depraved he is underneath. He regularly talks about serial killers, idolising some of their behaviours to his friends, and even outwardly saying his job is ‘murders and executions’, conveniently mistaken for mergers and acquisitions. Once we’re introduced to the major players, the women he interacts with, the alcohol based sexual lifestyle that he leads, we leave any realm of normality and plunge into the insane world he occupies.
It’s at this point, before I delve into the truly awful aspects of this story, that I would like to point out that I listened to this book. I was warned this wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but I think I knew that I wouldn’t finish it if I physically read it, and have to say that the only reason I managed to plow through it was due to the fact that I could listen to it comfortably on 1.75x speed. Nick Landrum did a great job of narrating a horrible piece, he himself was engaging and understood the piece, but at times, hearing the graphic acts committed was hard work.
Bateman is the narrator and villain of the piece, and as well as being a banker, lives a double life as a serial killer. It starts a little lighter, he invities two prostitutes around for a threesome, engages in many sexual acts with them, before beating them up a little with a variety of self made implements (the sharpened coat hanger sticking with me most vividly). At this point, when we were only 30/40% through, I realised it was only going to get worse.
And so it did. There murders varied completely, from sexually graphic, to opportunistic, to advantageous, and to some degree became normal in the context of the story. Throughout the book he acts violently towards animals and people, but it isn’t until he stabs a homeless man in the eyes until his eye balls fall out, repeatedly stabs him on the abdomen, and then jumps on his dogs front legs that we really see how awful he is. He later guts another dog, watching it chase it’s own entrails while it howls in pain, before slicing up the overtly gay owner. Between this, he kills a multitude of people, from taxi drivers, to buskers, security guard to janitors, in increasingly insane binges. It’s hard to hear about him going crazy and roaming the streets of New York, especally when he is murdering people violently, but also stealing cans of ham, eating the meat with his fingers like a rabid dog and then spectacularly vomiting it back up.
I’d love to say that’s as bad as it gets, but it’s really not. There is the murder of his colleague/frenemy Paul Owens that forms a backbone for the story, and from which many of the later plot points stem. He uses Owen’s apartment to later violently amputate and decapitate different women in the worst sexual orgies gone wrong. It’s bad enough to listen to graphic descriptions of rimming and threesomes, but that’s bearable to hearing the description of chewing through the genitals of these women, biting nipples off, tearing the flesh from there face, and killing them slowly and painfully whilst he gains sexual gratification from his acts. As the book progresses, the violence increases, and he begins to use implements such as drills, chainsaws and alike to aid him in his murderous acts.
As the book progresses, he uses the corpses and the body parts increasingly vivid ways too. As it starts, he gets off on a bit of violence, some punches/slaps and scratching, but as it does on, he drills the jaw bones apart before using the remaining orifice to pleasure himself. He chainsaws victims in two while they’re still alive. The scene above all other that I will never forget, however, includes an animal. He discovers a rat in his apartment, so he keeps it captive and without food. He violently assaults a woman, rapes and maims her, before inserting a tube into her, stuffing her vagina with cheese and unleashing the rat, knowing it will enter her. He then removes the tube and blocks it’s escape route so that it gnaws through the flesh of the woman. He’s then surprised that the rat comes out of he abdomen region (y’know, after he has chainsawed through her torso). It’s just, I mean there are no words.
He ends up on a complete rampage, and confessing all to his lawyers answering machine. The ending (if you can call it that) has him living his normal life after confronting the lawyer directly. He thinks Bateman is someone else, and laughs the message off as a practical joke, a prank call at the expense of Bateman who is described as being too tight laced and by the book to do anything of the sort.
At no point are the police really mentioned. Yes, a private detective features briefly, but if you were murdering that many people in such disgusting ways, then there is no chance you would get away with it. This has all lead me to wonder whether the events of the book are really happening, and whether the murderous impulses and thoughts are just that, nothing more than the disturbed imagination of a stressed and high strung psychopath.
I just didn’t get it. I definitely didn’t like it, and I don’t think I understand what makes this an allegedly good book. I actually own the beautifully simple Picador classic edition pictured above. As nice as it is, the edition suggests it has wormed its way into modern classic territory which I personally think it does not have the right to be in. I would never go as far as to tell anyone to avoid a book, I would never tell you to put it back or not to open it. But, in this case, I will say this: proceed with extreme caution, and beware, whatever anyone has told you before, and however bad you think it is, it will be worse!