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American Psycho Paperback – March 1, 1991
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From Library Journal
- Nora Rawlinson, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“A masterful satire and a ferocious, hilarious, ambitious, inspiring piece of writing, which has large elements of Jane Austen at her vitriolic best. An important book.” —Katherine Dunn
“A great novel. What Emerson said about genius, that it’s the return of one’s rejected thoughts with an alienated majesty, holds true for American Psycho…. There is a fever to the life of this book that is, in my reading, unknown in American literature.” —Michael Tolkin
“The first novel to come along in years that takes on deep and Dostoyevskian themes…. [Ellis] is showing older authors where the hands come to on the clock.” —Norman Mailer, Vanity Fair
- Publisher : Vintage; 1st edition (March 1, 1991)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 399 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0679735771
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679735779
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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American Psycho is about the infamous Patrick Bateman--Wall Street yuppie--whose extracurricular activities included clubbing; snorting coke; dining at New York City’s finest restaurants; purchasing overpriced sunglasses, suits, brief cases, bottled water, Walkman headphones; and murdering prostitutes, animals, co-workers, and the homeless.
With graphic and detailed descriptions that include sadomasochism, decapitations, eviscerations, dismemberment, and torture, it is no wonder American Psycho garnered so much controversy. In today’s culture (that has created a genre of film called torture porn), such a novel would probably not get national attention. But in 1991, before the novel was even published, the controversy was nearly as hostile as the protagonist. Most of American Psycho’s criticism has come from the fact that it depicts scenes that are disgusting, vile, crude, and immoral. What these critics fail to mention is that the novel itself is a looking-glass, reflecting a society that is itself disgusting, vile, crude, and immoral. What the novel does not do, to any extent, is shy away from truth or sugarcoat the ugliness of a society obsessed with surface and possessions; a society overcome by greed. In the late 70s and in the 80s, America experienced a string of serial killers (Bundy, Gacy, and Manson), that both terrified and fascinated Americans. Nothing quite captures America’s attention like murder. And this is exactly why Patrick Bateman, the antihero of the novel, is a serial killer set in a time period gripped with greed and fear.
Patrick Bateman is not the only sociopath in the novel. In fact, they populate the streets of New York City, the law firms, the finest restaurants and clubs. They are soulless individuals who do not care about others, only advancing themselves, only possessing, and accumulating more wealth. They are individuals who use others to their own advantage. In American Psycho, they are Wall Street yuppies, the upper class, the Marxist bourgeoisie--who destroy and use the unfortunate (homeless, prostitutes, children) so they can live in excess.
One reoccurring theme throughout the novel is that Patrick Bateman and his yuppie friends often mistake their co-workers for other co-workers, since there is no distinct individuality, only conformity to an ideal surface. No one really knows who anyone else is; as Patrick Bateman states, “Inside doesn’t matter." They are so self-absorbed that they do not take time to notice anyone outside themselves or their possessions, unless a source of ridicule or competition. Patrick Bateman, competing for the Fischer Account (which is never clearly explained, except for the fact that it is the best account), literally axes a co-worker named Paul Owen in the face, in order to get ahead. Talk about cut throat capitalism!
The graphic, deplorable scenes of violence in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho serve a purpose: to illustrate the inhumanity of a society that puts its value in objects instead of people. Or rather, treats people as objects. The murders and the sex scenes are not the only thing described in pornographic detail. Patrick Bateman is a character sick with obsession; obsession with all the wrong things. In many scenes, Bateman describes, in pornographic detail, his wardrobe, his apartment, brands of bottled water, his music collection, the food at his favorite restaurants. These are the things that consume not only Patrick, but his cohorts. In fact, one could say that a surface obsessed society creates monsters like Bateman. In a society gripped by fear, whose only solace is found in possessing and dominating, there is nowhere to go but down: into madness, psychosis; anything to try and feel, to escape the void. In a chapter entitled “Tries to Cook and Eat Girl,” Ellis underlines the only real thing that can fill the void:
Bateman attempts to turn a dead girl into meat loaf, but then he starts to cry: “The smell of meat and blood clouds up the condo until I don’t notice it anymore. And later my macabre joy sours and I’m weeping for myself, unable to find solace in any of this, crying out, sobbing ‘I just want to be loved’” (Ellis 345). This scene is gross and disturbing, but in some sick, morbid way—you may feel empathy for Patrick. There is only one thing that can fill the hole in Bateman’s consumer-obsessed soul: love. But, living in the society in which he does, love is an illusory concept, just like truth, compassion, and morals. In this society, there is only one truth: nothing matters—except money. In this society, there is no love and there is no escape from one’s emptiness.
I wanted to love this book. I really did. But it is very boring. It is chock-a-block with passage after passage about what people are wearing, what people are buying, where people went to school, who people know, where they live, who they have slept with and which hot spots they frequent. I understand its purpose is to highlight how superficial the yuppies are but its tedious and gets really old really fast.
I also found it boring because despite very graphic sex scenes and depraved violent acts Bateman does not feel like a real psychopath. He does not scare the reader or unsettle the reader the way reading a true crime novel would or watching a documentary about an actual serial killer would. He feels like the kind of psychopath we see in movies. Over the top, sexy and shallow.
So, why did I give it three stars if its so boring? Ellis is a darkly humorous author who makes lots of biting and acute social commentary which is the scariest part of the novel because in the twenty-seven years since Ellis wrote the book all of the commentary is still completely relevant and accurate. Ellis also does something very brave. He refuses to moralize which he easily could have done considering how appalling some of the behaviour that Patrick and the other characters engage in is. I like books that leave you thinking or even a little confused and American Psycho does both. Once you have finished you can not say for certain if Patrick is an out of control serial killer or if he is still hiding in plain sight and simply imagining all the ways he would act on his violent impulses.
Top reviews from other countries
The soullessly pornographic play-by-play commentary of the sex scenes, and the unflinchingly matter-of-fact descriptions of torture and mutilation; these passages become harder and harder to read, until finally I could only skim them as lightly as possible, and yet they’re so necessary to give you a frank representation of Patrick Bateman’s mind, and his unblinking detachment from these acts.
Even in his more mundane day-to-day dealings, his compulsion to break down the components of outfits, the catalogue-like descriptions of home furnishings and technology, and especially the whole chapters dedicated to his reviews of music artists – these also wear thin over time, but are just as important to show that in which he consistently places value, and on which he relies to maintain his mask of human sanity.
Although Patrick makes for a difficult narrator, Ellis’ skilful writing comes into play outside of this narrative too, in giving a fuller sense of the world he moves in: the repetitive, shallow conversation topics; the interchangeability of Bateman and his peers; how he can give blunt warnings and even admissions of guilt without ever being heard. It’s these touches, as well as Bateman’s increasingly frantic and futile attempts to retain control of himself, that make this book compelling in spite of Patrick’s narrative.
The format of the book is bonkers yet it works so well in further cementing the image of a psychopath: chapters which are polished and full of intellect are followed by disjointed chapters full of dark imagery and darker actions. Then there are the chapters concerning the music of Genesis, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis and the News. Completely random and totally inspired! On a serious note though, this book contains every trigger possible. Read it with extreme caution - it’s easy to see why this book has been, and in some places continues to be, a banned book. Having said that, it’s only a story.
So, decapitated coffee, anyone?
There were times during the most obscene scenes of torture, rape and murder that I understood her need to wipe it out.
I can see why it sits in a cannon of modern classics, it is in and of itself a unique comment on the materialistic focus of the late 20th century, the emptiness and futility of life when brands and restaurants are rated more highly than kindness, friendship and love.
From a 2020 perspective, the relentless Trump references and Bateman's hero worship of him is telling. A president placed on a pedestal for cut throat money making and phallic over compensating with his tower.
Women are dehumanized. Only Paul Owen's disappearance is investigated, only Solly the male taxi driver's death drives another to revenge, only the murder of a male child results in public weeping. Female victims don't matter. To Bateman or to anyone else in the novel.
If I'd not already seen the film a long time ago I'd have spent more time thinking it's all a delusion, that Bateman has made it all up.
Bret Easton Ellis made a statement. It's vacuous and horrific on purpose.
Quite possibly. Certainly it’s the one I remember most vividly, recommend most avidly, even, in some dark corner of my soul, cherish most deeply.
But despite its near twenty year residence on my bookshelf, it occurred to me that of late I’d talked a deal more about Ellis’ razor sharp deconstruction of masculine ego, wealth and trends than actually reading.
So I returned to it, and this time the hype it had to live up to wasn’t from magazine editors listing The Novels YOU Have To Read and the like, it was my own, the misty lens of memory as it were.
And how it did.
But how it did surprised me.
Older, certainly. Wiser, maybe. But it wasn’t the lurid highpoints that were so notable to young me (the twin taboos of sex and death turned up to eleven) that stood out this time but the elegance of the language, the apparent delight Ellis takes in establishment by repetition of the most banal Of patterns before shattering them in off beat and surprising ways.
It’s still lurid and grotesque, acerbic and hilarious, but for a satire of the surface perhaps it’s unsurprising that it’s the depth of it that matters the most.
I shall definitely continue to recommend it and cherish it, I may not leave it so long between reads in the future.
The first half of the book demonstrates, in great tedious detail, the superficial lifestyle of the wealthy. Every character in every scene is described by their designer clothes, from their sunglasses to their underwear and socks; grooming and television rituals; where and what they eat in expensive trendy restaurants and hotels; their crass and vacuous conversations about other rich people and how to match handkerchiefs and socks.
However, underneath this frivolity is a very dark and disturbing theme. There is plenty of wealth but no value. Racism is cruelly obvious as the homeless and low-paid workers are not part of the Yuppie elite and are ridiculed, mutilated and murdered for no other reason than that. The grotesque objectification of women is taken to the level where they are literally bought and treated as things to be used and discarded in obscene scenes of depravity and horror.
The protagonist talks about how he would like to murder, or has murdered or tortured people, but none of his peers listens or takes him seriously. There are frequent cases of mistaken identity or name confusion. Characters swap partners as there are no emotional bonds. None of this matters because everyone is the same and therefore interchangeable.
As the story develops, the violence, obscenity and murder increase. Sometimes the protagonist feels as if he is a film, another superficial and fake version of reality, and he refers to himself in the third person with exciting action scenes typical of Hollywood. He is not sure what has taken place is in his head or not and tests his peers about missing persons he believes he has murdered. He obviously thinks the ramifications would be more satisfying or at least acknowledged.
This is very much an anti-materialistic tale. These characters have everything money can buy, but they are empty and hollow inside, devoid of love, compassion and fulfilment. Perhaps torture and murder is a way to connect with the living and life because the designer clothes and gadgets don't fill the hole. What is missing is a heart, something the American Psycho, the consumerist capitalist, does not have.