Monday, 8 June 2009

Book Review - 'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis

When ascribing meaning to any art form, be it visual, musical or literary, context is of paramount importance. The scandalous novel of ninety years ago, today lines bookshop shelves as a nostalgic literary classic; the risqué painting of yesteryear is now mass-produced and hung on a million walls worldwide.

Eighteen years since its publication, Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' remains a significant novel of western society, undiluted despite its two-decade history. Any novel examining the soulless nature of capitalism and materialism has only to be read in the context of the current recession we're wading through, to resonate with modern readers.

The story of 'American Psycho' is now firmly ingrained in popular culture, thanks largely to the Christian Bale film of 2000. Whether you've read the book, watched the film or discussed it with your friends, the name Patrick Bateman is as famous as the author who created him.

Young, successful, extremely rich and devilishly handsome, Patrick Bateman leads a life where no luxury is spared. He dines at the most desirable of restaurants, fulfils his sexual desires with a string of attractive and successful women, lives in an exclusive apartment and has every material object that his heart desires. Bateman is also a murdering psychopath.

The graphic, sadistic and sexual nature of Bateman's murderous rampages are one of the most distinguishing features of Easton Ellis' debut novel. These evocative descriptions of depraved bloodlust scandalised a world upon the novel's release, and although society has undoubtedly become yet more de-sensitised since 1991, the uninhibited torture scenes and violent passages remain disturbing to this day.

But it's easy for such a contentious issue to detract from the novel's, arguable main, theme. In Bateman's world, all human interactions have been stripped down to materialistic components. His relationships with women are based purely on pursuing unattainable physical attention. All relationships with peers, since they surely cannot be deemed as friendships, revolve purely around materialistic one-upmanship – who has the better clothes, who has reservations at the most exclusive or restaurants, who has the most expensive business cards – the limits of obsessive neurosis are unlimited.

On a psychological level, the most obvious feeling we're supposed to have is one of shock and horror at Bateman's depraved homicidal acts. The beauty of 'American Psycho' however, is its ability to lay the most base of horror and evil before us, whilst using this as a mere backdrop to the 'real' terror of the materialistic life that Bateman leads. A world devoid of any genuine human interaction, emotion or feeling whatsoever – something that our desensitised society ironically finds infinitely more terrorising than the thoughtless murders and tortures of human beings – real food for thought.

A revolutionary novel, 'American Psycho' is a vivd commentary on the materialistic times we live in and one that remains as relevant and accessible today as it did two decades ago. The graphic nature of this novel makes it difficult reading for anyone who's not as desensitised as the soulless characters that populate this novel. If you can stomach scenes of an extremely violent nature however, and are looking for an important novel that makes a poignant comment on the social mores of modern society, 'American Psycho' is an important work of literature that's not to be underrated.


  1. Interestingly, this novel seems very polarising: people seem to either love or hate it. Would you see that as the sign of a 'landmark novel?' (thinking Joyce, etc).

  2. Hello, Very cool blog. I love books. Reading is the main key to learning and we must encourage this since the kids are small ...

    Great blog

  3. hi, nice blog

  4. I liked this blog, i think is very interesting, most of all for the new ideas that this blog talk.

  5. I, of course, a newcomer to this blog, but the author does not agree

  6. Great review - you've dealt with the book sensitively and intelligently, and picked out some really interesting themes. Thanks, a really interesting read!

    My review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

  7. This is an incredible book! I could not put it down without a struggle.

  8. This isn't his debut novel; it's his third, and actually worse than his others.