American Psycho – the satire tires

Not related to paediatrics (though a child is among the ‘victims’ of the protagonist) at all, my latest non-medical read is Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. I bought the paperback (along with Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, which I haven’t read yet) at a charity shop for 75p. My overall impression is that it would have been much better as a short story.

My interpretation is that Patrick Bateman imagines he is a serial killer when in reality he is some bloke who (I imagine) reads Men’s Health magazine. Or rather, a caricature thereof. The setting of the novel seems curiously ‘period’ to me, as I was only a pre-schooler in the 1980s. I’m not sure that’s one of the effects the author intends; one wonders how much consideration authors give to how their book will ‘age’ at the time of writing.

So Bateman is trapped in his mundanity, in a world where people are identified by the clothes they are wearing – these are described in far more detail than any human characteristics. All his acquaintances seem interchangeable and superficial, the places they frequent all blend into one, and they deliberate over pointless details of etiquette. To (try to) escape, Bateman creates a fantasy world, where he interacts in a physical, intimate and extremely violent way with characters who either come straight out of the pornographic videos he rents, or are people who irritate him in real life. But his fantasies lack imagination, and suffer from his dearth of real life experience – when he decides in his fantasy world to cook and eat a girl he has ‘killed’, he can’t even do it, because he has “never cooked anything before”.

The best part of the book, I reckon, is the episode where the ‘real life’ Bateman gets robbed at gunpoint by a taxi driver. Throughout the book, Bateman is repeatedly mistaken for other people – whether a specific person or “a model”. In this episode, the taxi driver says he has seen Bateman’s face on a ‘wanted’ poster, that he is wanted for killing a taxi driver (one of his fantasy victims is a taxi driver). If that were true, it would be Bateman’s fantasy come to life. But instead of freeing Bateman from his mundane existence, this chance meeting of reality and fantasy ends with him being relieved of his gold Rolex. Of course, like everything else in Bateman’s life, the watch is replaceable (and is indeed quickly replaced, on his insurance). This is, in a way, even sadder than if he had been shot, or had actually lost anything of real value. The novel fittingly ends with Bateman noticing a sign above a door at a bar that reads “this is not an exit”.

So, cool idea, good story. Just too long. Or maybe that was deliberate, to drive home the mundanity of it all.

Verdict: Back to the charity shop. Sorry Mr. Ellis!

(the last book that was a keeper was The Great Gatsby)

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