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Saturday, 2 February 2013

Bret Easton Ellis - American Psycho

review live on show by Beth Hilton on 24th Jan 2013

American Psycho was published in 1991 and was made into a successful film starring Christian Bale in 2000. The story is set in Manhattan during the Wall Street boom of the late 1980s and is told from the first person point of view of Patrick Bateman, a yuppie investment banker in his 20s. He basically narrates his daily activities in a stream of consciousness style, right from his morning routine to  going out to restaurants and clubs with his yuppie friend where they snort cocaine and criticise other people's dress sense, to his dates in restaurants with his fiance to picking up prostitutes and murdering people in the most savage way possible.
   All of this - whether its his skin care routine or beating a tramp to death - is described in a very matter-of-fact, emotionless, blank manner which is indicative of the emptiness, superficiality and pointless hedonism of the lives of the people its describing. They're all completely obsessed with who's wearing what and who has the best business card and where their next cocaine hit is coming from. All this narrative is occasionally broken up by chapters in which he directly addresses the reader in order to discuss the work of 1980s musicians like Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News.
   The book generated a great deal of controversy before and after it was published. Andrew Motion of the Observer said when it came out that it was "numbingly boring, and for much of the time deeply and extremely disgusting. Not interesting-disgusting, but disgusting-disgusting: sickening, cheaply sensationalist, pointless except as a way of earning its author some money and notoriety."
   But opinion has mellowed a lot and it's now generally regarded as a modern classic. I personally think it's an amazing book and an extremely clever satire, made more so by the fact that Bret Easton Ellis was only 26 when it was published. It is gratuitously explicit in terms of both sex and violence. I really can't emphasize that enough so don't for god's sake read it if you're easily offended. Ellis was asked why it's so explicit and he said because the way these characters are - i.e. totally devoid of feeling - it stands to reason that Patrick Bateman would describe his killing sprees in the same matter-of-fact way he describes every other part of his life. He wouldn't be coy about it, and I think that makes sense.
   As an indictment of the empty superficial lifestyles of yuppies during the Wall Street boom, it's very effective. It's also extremely funny. A review from the Guardian says: “As well as being a repulsive nightmare, Patrick Bateman is a comic creation of the highest order. His snobbery, his bad taste, his obsession with Les Mis and ability to take Huey Lewis and the News seriously, his terror when someone has a better business card than him, his constant worry that he has ‘to return some videos’ all add up to one of the funniest comic creations since Bertie Wooster. True, he isn't quite such pleasant company as Bertie, but what did you expect? He's a psycho.”
   I've read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis's work and this is actually the only one I like. That’s because all his books depict the same thing - the empty lives of young people in America. After a while you think is this satire or is this just a description of the life he actually leads? It all gets incredibly depressing after a while because the characters are so superficial and unlikeable. and he admitted it, that this is his life, he knows its ridiculous but he can't seem to stop. 

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