American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is without any doubt my favourite contemporary novel. I recently saw American Psycho: The Musical at the Almeida Theatre and it completely blew me away. It was pure perfection as a musical. Matt Smith (my dashing Doctor) was absolutely amazing as Patrick Bateman. The musical got me thinking about how unfortunate it is that it’s such a widely misunderstood novel.
Bret recently said in an interview that “Patrick Bateman seems to embody something about masculinity that was blooming at a certain point in the late 80s to early 90s. This kind of damnification of the male. This obsession with male narcissism and beauty. Men being looked at in a way that women had been looked at for decades. American Psycho was probably the first novel about a metrosexual.”
You can’t deny the very obvious references to another favourite book of mine, Psycho by Robert Bloch. Firstly, the surnames Bates and Bateman. Then there’s the titles of the novels, and both Norman Bates and Patrick Bateman are serial killers, well Patrick is a supposed serial killer.
Yes, American Psycho has a lot of gore in it but that’s not all there is to it. I’ve noticed that the gore tends to be what people who haven’t actually read it talk about. It’s the same people who can’t understand how it can work as a musical. Well it does because it’s not a horror novel or a gorefest. It’s a very clever social satire, the perfect black comedy. Its blithe nihilism, the extreme obsession with perfection and the relentless boredom of the characters are just a few reasons why American Psycho is utterly hilarious.
Without the casual violence Bret wouldn’t be pushing the limits of the book’s depraved hedonistic culture. It’s definitely one of the reasons the book has had such a huge impact. It’s comforting to know that Bret didn’t really want to write the violent scenes. He wrote the book and left the murder scenes unwritten. In the end he filled them out with details from actual serial killings from FBI criminology textbooks at the New York Public Library.
Having studied psychology I find it very interesting from that angle as well. Depending on how you interpret the novel, Patrick could for example be suffering from antisocial personality disorder or schizotypal personality disorder. It intrigues me tremendously. I also have a weakness for stream-of-consciousness narratives.
I highly recommend reading it. Although you might want to skip the violent chapters if you don’t have a strong stomach. If you have read it already, then read it again.