‘Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do?
Patrick Bateman has it all: good looks, youth, charm, a job on Wall Street, reservations at every new restaurant in town and a line of girls around the block. He is also a psychopath. A man addicted to his superficial, perfect life, he pulls us into a dark underworld where the American Dream becomes a nightmare…’
This book was another recommendation from my Creative Writing group and, since I’d survived the film with Christian Bale a few months ago, I thought why not try it. I figured I’d be able to cope with the violence since the film was bearable and I’d heard that Ellis is a phenomenal writer.
First of all you can’t read this novel without appreciating just how impressive a writer Ellis is. This book is so well written it makes reading even the most uncomfortable of scenes a joy. Ellis perfectly captures Bateman’s descent into internal chaos and apathy in such an intriguing way that I doubt anyone who has started to read the book can bear to leave it unfinished. His choice of first person narration leaves the reader trapped inside Bateman’s alien mind while simultaneously giving us the opportunity to examine any similarities between our thought processes and the way Bateman perceives and responds to the world.
But Ellis isn’t just a clever writer, he is also funny. The ability to take a book that scares you, that sickens you but to also add in the moments of comedy that Ellis introduces allows the reader time to recover before the next onslaught of horror and is a particularly useful technique. The almost constant stream of people who mistake Bateman for someone else, the sheer amount of times people ask Bateman questions about the proper way to wear certain items of clothing added together with scenes like the comparison of the business cards and you have just enough light, relief scenes to make the atrocities committed bearable.
The novel itself is an interesting commentary on the highly educated, well connected young men who work on Wall Street in the novel who, like Bateman, all have questionable morals and are living in a delusional world where everything revolves around them and the material objects they can afford. Although such a subject is interesting it does leave a bad taste in the mouth for everyone reading as its quite difficult to tolerate such self obsessed men. You can’t help but think if you actually met any of these people in real life, or men like them who believe homeless people are just too lazy to get real jobs, you’d have a tough job to stop yourself slapping them. It’s unusual to have a book about white, male, upper class privilege that both recognises and ridicules it but, luckily, Ellis manages it perfectly. The fact that Batemans biggest hero is Donald Trump also made me chuckle and, especially at the moment, adds an entire new layer to the character.
Altogether I would never say this is a comfortable read. It’s a powerful social commentary that pushes you out of your comfort zone right to the edge of what you can cope with. But that’s where its power lies and I think the novel would significantly lose something without those scenes of immense violence. It’s a fascinating read but clearly not for the fainthearted. One need only read this book to see just how masterful a writer Ellis is and, although I may not be rushing back into Bateman’s mind anytime soon, I will definitely look forward to my new dip into Ellis’ work.
I would give it 5 stars for the writing alone but since I’m not really sure I can honestly say I enjoyed reading this book (although it certainly was a positive experience) I’ll go for four instead.