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My Dissertation Books (Part II): American Psycho

Before this, a quick note on my absence:

Here in Cambridge, Week 5 is known as the worst week of term: we are just past the half-way point, and momentum is gradually falling. Its a bit of a self-perpetuating myth, where people blame anything that goes wrong on the ‘Week 5 Blues’ - more often than not Week 5 is an excuse to eat chocolate/watch films as your brain resolutely says ‘no’ to work. Week 5 hit me hard. I have been trying to fight off what I think may be a cold/flu, & have tried to persevere because I just have too much stuff I want/have to do. Terms are only 8 weeks long, and its Week 6 already, so when I get back home I will have the time to sleep for days. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been overwhelmed with dissertation work (my first draft is due in a week) & weekly essays, and yesterday I finished my first application to a graduate programme (fingers crossed!) - these things on top of maintaining my relationships with people here & looking after myself has meant that the blog has unfortunately taken a back seat.

But I’m back! And to kick things off I wanted to follow up on my promise of another book overview - you loved my post on The Bonfire of the Vanities, so here is the second book I am studying for my dissertation: American Psycho.

“Patrick Bateman is twenty-six and works on Wall Street; he is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath.” 

These words are on the blurb of my copy, and I can’t argue with them. This book is not for the faint-hearted, it is not for those who cannot handle graphic (extremely graphic) detail (I’m talking graphic sex as well as graphic murder), and it is not for those who like to like the main character of their book. 

I first read American Psycho at the beginning of last summer, so its a fairly new addition to my list. It’s one of those books I had often heard about through the grape-vine, but I was always scared to pick up - I don’t really know why. I had never seen the film version until Spring 2015 when my friend and I took the plunge, and I personally feel that watching the film helped me to ‘psych’ myself up for reading the book. The book is different to the film (those of you who know it, know that you’ll never see Christian Bale quite the same way again), but I feel like the film helped me to understand the kinds of things I was about to be confronted with in this 384 page novel. In hindsight, I am glad I waited to read it, as I don’t think I was prepared before watching the film. 

Materialistic’ is where I’ll begin. There are an innumerable amount of lists in this book: designers, beauty routines, restaurants, rules of dress - I could go on. Many have taken this to be a boring narration of life, but I find it so apt. The book is clustered with these commentaries of how one is supposed to act, supposed to look, supposed to be; and externally Bateman fulfils all expectations - he is the ‘boy next door’…then there’s a ‘smash cut’ and he’s killing dogs while wildly decapitating random people, screaming like a banshee. The narrative slowly unfolds so we see this disturbed character develop directly out of the lists and banal routine - I find it a really fascinating commentary on material culture and modern society.

You need to know that the book is disturbing. It does make me shudder when I read some scenes. Initially, the book was withheld from being sold in many stores when first released, many critics hailing Ellis a ‘misogynist’ due to the number of women Bateman kills/his deeply misogynistic views. But I think to dismiss the book on the grounds of a ‘misogynistic’ writer would be to miss the point. I kind of don’t really care whether Ellis is a misogynist - for me, that is not what reading this book is about. Many early reviewers of the book centred on this killing of women as proof of misogyny; yet Bateman’s victims are a diverse array (he kills a child in a zoo for goodness sake) which tells us more - this is something later generations of readers are picking up on, and I think it’s a more productive perspective to take. 

I often have people question ‘but how can you read that for your dissertation?’ - my answer is simple: the narrative is pretty much my idea of genius. Ellis’ construction of the narrative struck me as something so precise, so deliberate I could not help but be in awe of it. We all know that my dissertation is about ‘spaces’ and the ways in which people perceive/move about. American Psycho is great for this. 

We move from the restaurants, bars and social ‘spheres’ where we see Bateman act the ‘boy next door’, to his office where we don’t actually see him work, to his apartment, to the streets of New York where his disturbed mind comes to the forefront. What has interested me is the link between Bateman’s narrative description of these places and the behaviour we see happen within them. Place affects action - it’s all very interesting. At the start of the novel, chapters are named after individual places, separating the novel into ‘blocks’ of action named after these given spaces. Later on, we see a shift, as one sentence can now list numerous places detailing what Bateman has done and where. One single sentence. Why the change? What causes this? What is this shift trying to say? So yeah - the book is wonderful in this sense. I may have to watch a Disney film after I have been studying the book for quite some time to clear my mind of the gory details I read inside and to generally uplift my mood, but goddamn the narrative is goooooooood. And to be honest it’s quite a funny novel too - the social satire is so on point in places. 

I’m going to recommend this book to anyone who wants to/has ever felt like reading it. It won’t be for everyone, but there is a lot more to American Psycho than ‘he kills people and is crazy and hates women’. I think the book is genius. End. 

- Sarah