I don't think the novel has ever been better understood or analysed than by its most informed literary critic, Elizabeth Young (now sadly no longer with us; you can read her review - in her fantastic collection of literary essays/appreciation, Pandora's Handbag: Adventures in the Book World - that she originally published in a London magazine when the novel came out in 1991); she was only one of probably two critics at the time that recognised `American Psycho' for the ruthless, ferocious satire on the 1980s materialistic, superficial, brands-and-money driven world - a `consumerist kind of void', as Ellis himself put it in one interview; a satire, then of modern hell - easily recognised by any even half-sensible person who had to endure that awful decade (though I loved the dance music! - and not, I hasten to add, the tripe that Bateman eulogises on!) - as Ellis clearly signposts to his reads with bookend words, at the beginning and end of his novel, respectively: `ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE' and, just like hell, `THIS IS NOT AN EXIT'.
I have absolutely no doubt it is a satire, and I'm not going to argue the case for/against here, but take it as given. So really my review is just about the particular targets of Ellis's satire that I loved the most. Here goes:
- Bateman's and his peers' endlessly addictive need to have reservations at the best Manhattan restaurants (a long, absurd and funny conversation between Bateman and his b(w)****** friends, in fact, takes place on this very topic, consuming the entire chapter of `Another Night')
- The entirely god-awful, pretentious, ostentatious and utterly absurd food served there (one such example, in the chapter, `Birthday, Brothers', at the Dorsia, that all of the b(w)ankers are obsessed with - when Sean, Bateman's brother, orders: `lobster with caviar and peach ravioli as an appetizer and the blackened lobster with strawberry sauce as an entree.' Bewyechugh - but very funny); and Bateman's relentless observation and adherence to strict dress codes.
- No one ever really caring or commenting on the sadistic things that Bateman says. Two particularly deliciously delightful ones, as example, are, first, from the chapter, `Harry's': `After a deliberate pause, I say, "Do you know what Ed Gein said about women?" "Ed Gein?" one of them asks. "Maitre d' at Canal Bar?"'
- And the other great one, from the chapter, `Nell's', when Bateman's in a nightclub, talking to a model, and she asks Bateman, `"So what do you do?" "What do you think I do?" [...] "I'm into, oh, murders and executions mostly. It depends." I shrug. "Do you like it?" she asks, unfazed. "Um ... it depends. Why?" [...] "Well, most guys I know who work in mergers and acquisitions don't really like it," she says.' This chapter also has a viciously fun full-on ****-take of the archetypal `dumb model'; one of whom, Daisy, really believes Bateman when he says that Gorbachev is downstairs in the club, negotiating a peace treaty between the US and Russia, with Bateman's colleague, Greg.
- And one more: one of the themes running through the novel is Bateman's obsession with a classic sleezy American talk TV series where anything (topic) is perfectly acceptable - The Patty Winters Show, that Bateman refers to - I think - more than 40 times throughout the novel, and in fact he actually lists 42 different topics. Just marvellous satire. Well, for all you true `American Psycho' fans/aficionados out there, this is for your pleasure (it certainly was mine, when I read them in the novel, and to list them), here follow the topics discussed on the show, and in what I believe is the correct sequential order of Bateman's reference to them. I believe you'll see the wonderfully (mostly) ever-increasing absurdity and sleeziness and muck- and fear-raking AND comical effect of them as a result of me listing them - and, as my wonderful friend Katherine says about `American Psycho': "you could make endless number of lists from the novel!" (she did one all about the courses chosen in the restaurants - terrific):
1. Women with multiple personalities
3. Women with Big Breasts (Bateman's capitalisation, not mine!)
4. A repeat show of an interview with President Ronald Reagan (surely the most absurd - ahem)
5. Real-life Rambos
6. Perfumes and Lipsticks and Makeups
7. Descendents of members of the Donner Party (for those who don't know ... the American plane crash, resulting in cannibalism among those surviving the event)
8. UFOs that kill
9. The possibility of nuclear war
11. Shark Attack Victims
12. Aspirin: Can It Save Your Life?
14. Women who've had mastectomies
15. A new sport called Dwarf Tossing
16. Women who married homosexuals
17. Teenage Girls Who Trade Sex for Crack
18. Aerobic Exercise
19. Deformed People
20. Concentration Camp Survivors
21. Salad Bars
22. Michael J. Fox? No, it was about Patrick Swayze
23. Talking animals
24. A two-part show: `The first was an exclusive interview with Donald Trump, the second was a report on women who've been tortured'
25. Best restaurants in the Middle East
26. The shows were all repeats
27. People Who Weigh Over Seven Hundred Pounds - What Can We Do About Them?
28. A repeat: Tips on How Your Pet Can Become a Movie Star
29. Princess Di's beauty tips
30. Human Dairies
31. An interview with a man who set his daughter on fire while she was giving birth
32. Beautiful Teenage Lesbians
33. Men Who've Been Raped by Women
34. A two-part show: `The first section is on the lead singer of the rock band Guns n' Roses, Axl Rose [...] Part two consists of Patty [Winters] reading letters that Ted Bundy, the mass murderer, had written to his fiancée during one of his many trials. "'Dear Carole,"' she reads, while an unfairly bloated head shot of Bundy, just weeks away from execution, flashes across the screen, "please do not sit in the same row in court with Janet. When I look over toward you there she sits contemplating me with her mad eyes like a deranged seagull studying a **** ... I can feel her spreading hot sauce on me already ....'"'
35. People with half their brains removed
36. The topic of the title is not actually listed on this occasion by Bateman, but nonetheless, he refers to a scene in it in which `Patty Winters is on the TV screen asking a child, eight or nine, "But isn't that just another term for an orgy?"'
37. On the show this morning, Bateman says there was `A Cheerio [an American breakfast cereal, for those readers who don't know!] in a very small chair and was interviewed for close to an hour'
38. `Girls in the fourth grade [i.e., nine or ten years old, for those who don't know the US educational grade system] who trade sex for crack'
39. Does Economic Success Equal Happiness?
40. `Doormen From Nell's [the exclusive Manhattan nightclub, referred to earlier]: Where Are They Now'
But, but, but ... I do have one major reservation, and it's the one that many readers of the novel do, understandably, share: yep, dear reader: it's about Ellis' obvious authorial, `my rights as an artist' need (for whatever his own reasons were) to write about the murders in such horrifically intense detail. After all, he could have singled out one murder, in grotesque detail, and any subsequent reference he simply could have generalised. But, of course, Bateman is not general about anything, and is specific and exact about everything (so I understand the character's motivation, that Ellis honours). Still ... I ended up feeling that they were gratuitous and unnecessary, and reduced the novel in those scenes to purely sadistic trash misogynistic, snuff-movie horror. Still ... we readers are in hell, I know ... But, but ... I confess I can't helping thinking that Ellis is really a misogynist, and not simply a satirist. Awful, I know.
While the novel will stay with me forever, it is also true that I won't forget the sadistic violence, nor will I forget Bateman's numerous obsessions, or the brilliant dry, dark, wit and many humorous episodes throughout the novel. show more