Love it or Hate it? American Psycho by Ellis
Have you ever noticed how some books seem to drive a wedge between people? You check the reviews and find almost no middle-of-the-road ratings. Instead people either seem to love it or hate it. Welcome to the Love it or Hate it post! Each month, we’ll pick one book to review and two contributors will battle it out to convince you to pick it up or throw it out. Last month we discussed Stranger in A Strange Land by Heinlein. The results were close with the “Love its” taking 56%. I was the “Hate it” reviewer (to be fair I didn’t hate the book but I hated elements of it) and Charisma was the “Love it” reviewer. Many thanks to Charisma for helping us out last minute.
This month’s selection is also on Boxall’s 1001 List of Books to Read before you Die. So the question is… do you Love it or Hate it? Continue reading to find see our two reviews. Make sure to vote in our poll at the bottom of the post even if you haven’t read it.
Book: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
First Published: 1991
Find it/Buy it here:American Psycho
Synopsis (from Amazon): In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis imaginatively explores the incomprehensible depths of madness and captures the insanity of violence in our time or any other. Patrick Bateman moves among the young and trendy in 1980s Manhattan. Young, handsome, and well educated, Bateman earns his fortune on Wall Street by day while spending his nights in ways we cannot begin to fathom. Expressing his true self through torture and murder, Bateman prefigures an apocalyptic horror that no society could bear to confront.
Love it (Reviewer A): “The controversial novel about a handsome serial killer who moves among the young and trendy in 1980s New York” perfectly describes what the book is about, but doesn’t give a hint about what the book is.
It’s a brilliant and biting social satire, with emphases on fashion, food, music (I’ve had Genesis songs stuck in my head for two days) – material wealth, status, fidelity (lack of), identity (lack of), etc. It is brilliantly done. There are an exceptional number of clever laugh-out-loud moments, although make no mistake, it’s dark humor. This guy makes Dexter Morgan look like Ramona the Pest. The sex scenes are intense and vividly described. The violence in this book is graphic. Wince inducing. Senseless … random. Upsetting. The last 100 pages contain the most gruesome things I’ve ever read, and I’ve read most Palahnuik.
Bret Easton Ellis built the main character’s madness masterfully. The brilliance in this novel lies in the strong ties to reality. It is hard to imagine people so totally consumed with fashion, trends, wealth, elitism … and yet, I’ve known some (dated one), and the truth is very often stranger than fiction.
My absolute favorite part of the book is a 4-5 page dinner reservation discussion. It was perfect.
I would love to be able to recommend this book unconditionally. I can’t. But if you can stomach unimaginable violence (which is a small percentage of the book) the novel is well worth the read, and made my top 10 list the year I read it, and continues to be a book I think about years later.
Hate it (Reviewer B): It could all be satire, it could all be in his head, but I just could not get over the graphic details in this novel. Patrick Bateman is the star (?) of the novel, or rather the voice from which it is all written. By day he is a successful investment banker, by night a serial killer. I found this novel sickening and more so the further through I got. I actually had a physical reaction of a bad kind while reading some of the violent description in this. Sure, write about a serial killer, sure write it from the perspective of said serial killer, but please, please spare me the details of eyeballs popping out of the victims head and the joy of cannibalism and necrophilia. I honestly don’t understand where the appeal of this comes from, or why critics apparently raved about it. Or even why they made a film about it (which I am certainly NEVER going to watch).
This book focuses on detail. Lots of detail. Not just the blow by blow account of the deaths but also the details about the materialistic world in which Bateman lives; the parties, the drinking, the buying ridiculously expensive clothes because he can. The more mundane part of the novel (his daily life) is a world so far from my own that there was no possibility of my understanding or sympathising with it. I know that we live in a world of materialism, I know that we as a society are constantly under stress to be more and more materialistic. And that is one thing this novel does well: shows just how inane and pointless it all is. Who cares whether your cufflinks are from Cartier? Or if you’re even wearing them? The whole world in which Bateman lives is made up of superficiality. Which I guess is the point. But because I had so little sympathy for his life, I was even more disgusted with his means of escape. Admittedly it is ambiguous: did he or did he not do any of these horrific things? Bateman is a very unreliable narrator. But even if it was all just his imaginings, why, oh, why have they been inflicted on me as a reader? I’d never even imagined that half the things were possible and it just made me feel sick.
Graphic sex and graphic swearing suddenly became almost acceptable in my head because graphic killing is just so far beyond the pale as to stun me. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. In fact, what I just wrote about the cufflinks – I can’t remember what the actual designer references were: I had to skim large parts of this book because I was swinging between such disgust and such boredom. (Boredom at the mundane drinks parties and designer shopping.)
So I guess if you are going to read it, then take it as a critique of the life led by those in power and what the younger generation would do in order to enter that world. But if you are looking for a book that you will enjoy, this is most definitely not the book for you. Bret Easton Ellis shows absolutely no restraint in his descriptions and if you have the stomach to be able to deal with it, then you are a braver person than me. Frankly I hated it. I would rather die than read another book by him or even SEE that book again. Writing this review has brought back some seriously awful memories. I don’t think I have ever had such a violent reaction to a book, or such a physical one. It isn’t even worth half a star in my opinion and why it was included in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list is beyond me. If you are someone who is trying to read the list, trust me you want to leave it till last so that you likely don’t have to read it at all.
What do you think? Vote in our poll and tell is if you love it or hate it. If you haven’t read it, you can vote on whether you want to or not.
If you want to try it for yourself, you can find the book here: American Psycho