American Psycho


I’ve been listening to Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho on Audible, read with a nice intensity by Nick Landrum. It would be interesting to debate on the different approaches to the novel, ie between reading it and hearing it; I found Landrum’s reading of it to be pretty much as I think I would have experienced it as a reader.

Anyways, onto the book. I’ve wondered about this book for years, having nudged into it here and there in the zeitgest but never having read it. I found it fascinating.

First off, Ellis is a great writer. Let’s just get that down; hearing his pleasure in language is a genuine joy. He’s a great writer.

So why did I stop listening after the first third and instead sneak over to Wikipedia to read the plot outline? Fundamentally because a brave and intelligent and skilful and in many ways beautiful interrogation of what it meant to be alive in the late ’80s is actually really dull. First off, there are no characters; I defy you to pick out Courtney or Macdermot or Evelyn or all the others from the most basic of NYPD identity parades – you just can’t tell the difference between any of them, because Ellis isn’t interested in any of them.

Second, in order to accentuate the psycho in American Psycho, Ellis – because he has chosen that first person narrator model which postmodern lit crits will tell you at creative writing classes is the only serious way to go – has to give us lists. Lists of clothing designers, lists of music genres (he has the immense good humour and grace to tell us in a later interview that his editor hated the chapter on Genesis albums), lists of workout regimes. Like, yeah, I get it, he’s a psycho.

So for me, the novel fails. In saying that, I feel slightly like I’ve turned into that weird Irish guy on X Factor, dismissing a pale and ineffectual German entrant called Franz Kafka for coming on and writing a story about a fucking spider. Come on Franz, entertain us!

But inherent in American Psycho – and perhaps this is where Ellis’s brilliance really lies – is the inherent death of the Western novel, which began in the 16th century when Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. Perhaps that’s really what Patrick Bateman was slashing to a bloody mess with his axe: the English novel.