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”American Psycho” is a novel by Bret Easton Ellis. It was published in 1991, and soon became very controversial because of its violent and graphic content. Particular feminist groups reacted strongly towards this, because they felt that the book beautifies violence towards women. In several countries it is considered to be harmful to minors, and because of that, the book’s sales is strongly restricted.
The story takes place in Manhattan, during the late nineteen-eighties, among young and up-and-coming businessmen. They eat at the newest, most fashionable restaurants, wear clothes from the most expensive and exclusive designers and they surround themselves with the most beautiful women they can come across.
These men are more or less the stereotypic image of yuppies, and the main character, Patrick Bateman, doesn’t exactly stand out in the crowd. He looks good, exercises regularly, and likes to use cocaine. But beneath the surface Bateman apparently is a psychotic mass murderer. He finds it arousing to abuse and kill other human beings, preferably young, attractive women.
During the first third of the book all sorts of daily activities in Patrick’s life are described. Everything from his breakfast, to phone calls to order tables at the trendiest restaurants are described down to the smallest detail.
The author puts a lot of weight on the purely superficial. What other people are wearing takes up a lot of Patrick Bateman’s attention. He is always describing people’s clothes; which designer they come from, what materials they are made of, how they are cut and so on.
All this is described without any emotions at all. You could probably get the same out of reading the table of declaration on a pack of washing powder. It can be pretty dull with all of these descriptions, but at the same time there are a lot more to them than it may seem at first. Bateman is so occupied with the purely superficial that he is unable to have emotional relations with others. The author uses these endless, monotonous descriptions in order to criticize today’s consumer society. It shows how purely material and superficial things become the centre of attention, instead of relations between human beings.
"I live in the American Gardens Building on W. 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I'm 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy I'll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion." (Bret Easton Ellis, 1991)
This is also very obvious in Patrick Bateman himself. He is so busy trying to fit in that he loses all his unique features. His colleagues and business associates constantly mistake him for others, and only those who really know him remembers who he is. In the same way, Bateman can’t remember the names of his acquaintances. Everyone become so alike in this society that it becomes almost impossible to differentiate each other from the crowd.
The abuse and killings are described in the same monotonous way as Bateman describes everything else. The lack of emotional involvement makes the reader more distanced from everything that happens than you would normally be. This gives all the violence a “milder” character than it otherwise would have had, and it might get a bit easier to read.
In Bateman’s world absolutely everything is an article of consumption. Things are made to be used, and when you are finished with them you just throw them away. Bateman has the same attitude towards women. He starts out treating them nicely, before he starts to get more brutal. This usually ends in pure abuse, before he kills them in different ghastly ways.
During the book you also notice that the main character’s mental state is getting worse. In the first third of the book he seems quite normal for the most part, but he has some outbursts of what rightfully can be called insanity. He experiences sudden urges to harm or kill different people. Eventual this urge develop into what may seem to be actions, but there are a lot of different reasons to believe that this is all just happening inside Bateman’s own head.
The people who actually love Patrick are totally exempted from this violence. He thinks about doing things to them, but he never actually does anything other than thinking about it. It is also quite odd that no one notices any of what he claims to be doing. Nobody notices that prostitutes and beggars are disappearing from the streets, and no one notices the smell that must have been present after some of the killings. Some of his victims are also observed after they supposedly have been killed by Bateman. Later in the book the main character experiences that different objects are talking to him. This includes a park bench and an ATM. It is also a bit conspicuous that an interviewee in his favorite talk show is a pack of cereal. The violence is also getting a lot worse throughout the book. It starts out with just stabbing, but advances to cannibalism and necrophilia. All this suggests that all the violent acts are taking place in Bateman’s mind, and that he is getting sicker and sicker.
I like the way the author makes today’s consumer society appear, and how he criticizes this by exaggerating in the way that he does. It is also an interesting twist that you never can be quite sure whether things are actually happening, or if they are just a part of Bateman’s imagination. This isn’t exactly one of those books you need to read before you die, but it is without doubt good quality satire, and a good novel with a nice twist. I would definitively recommend this book to those who are not among the squeamish, and who like a bit of black humor.
“American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis