Stephen's Reviews > American Psycho

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
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Mar 09, 12

bookshelves: ebooks, psychos, 1990-1999, the-creeps, horror
Read from January 28 to 30, 2011 — I own a copy

Unholy...Shite!!

This may be the only book I've rated 5 stars that I have NO intention of EVER reading again. Ever. After finishing this, I was forced to wait until my brain had cooled down and re-congealed before I could cogitate sufficiently to put my experience with this novel into words.

And yet, even after almost 36 hours have ticked by, the only word that keeps bubbling up to the surface of my consciousness is...WOW

...in both the good and not so good vareity.

At first, I'd thought about trying to do a “tongue-inside-the-cheek” review by imitating the narrator and describing what “designers” I was wearing while typing this review and what “brand” of shampoo and shaving cream I used this morning. However, the more I thought about, the more I realized I wanted to play this one straight given the profound effect the book had on me.

Therefore, you get (mostly) serious Stephen today.

On the one hand, this novel is a visceral, disturbingly dark portrait of the 1980’s as a emotionally vacuous, disconnected and superficial bastion of consumerism in which the people living through it became more and more detached from society and less and less able to emote for anyone beyond themselves. In essence, the book deals extensively (and brilliantly) with a loss of empathy.

The protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is the personification of the darkest extreme of this lack of empathy. He is, by definition, a psychopath which has as one of its primary characteristics, the “inability to feel guilt, remorse or empathy towards another person.” Patrick is outwardly charming and good-mannered with all the outward indicia of normality.

Inside...there is NOTHING.

I found the beginning of the book to be very funny in a dark, satirical way. Almost every sentence out of Patrick’s mouth included a description of a specific product “brand” or status symbol. He didn’t just reach into his wallet and pay the cabbie, He opens up his “Ermenegildo Zegna” suit coat, pulls out his “Tumi” calf-skin wallet while seeing in the corner of his eye the “Fratelli Rossetti” wingtips that his friend has on and pulls out cab fare before putting the wallet back in his new black leather attache by “Bottega Veneta.” As the narrative goes on, you realize that we are seeing the world through Patrick’s “distorted” lens and this focus on brands is simply a result of Patrick’s twisted world view.

In addition to having some serious fun with the out of control consumerism of the 80’s, Ellis slowly begins to reveal to us the fact that Patrick (and I might add all of the people he associates with) have no empathy or compassion for anyone but themselves. Upon arriving at a very high-end restaurant where Patrick and his friends will spend an exorbitant amount of money (and barely eat any of their food), Patrick casually narrates for us:
Outside Pastels Tim grabbed the napkin with Van Patten’s final version of his carefully phrased question for GQ on it and tossed it as a bum huddling outside the restaurant feebly holding up a sloppy cardboard sign: I AM HUNGRY AND HOMELESS PLEASE HELP ME.
No further comment is made about the scene and it is only after many more similar occurrences that you begin to get the “picture” that is being portrayed.

I thought that the first half of the book was nothing short of BRILLIANT as an indictment of the period. However, that is not where the book ends and it's the second half of the book that, while equally well written, was arguably the most disturbing writing I've ever read.

As the book progresses, Patrick’s nighttime activities become more and more bizarre, sadistic and just plain brutal. Now, I've read a lot of horror and seen my share of movie gore and while I don't enjoy “slasher” movies (or torture porn novels) I certainly have been able to deal with some very brutal images and scenes in the context of a what I read and watch. Well, the images and descriptions of Patrick’s murders unsettled me as much as anything I have ever experienced. It was not just the graphic, detailed AND PROLONGED scenes of rape, murder and torture (not always in that order). It was inner monologue of Patrick totally devoid of empathy for his victims that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. I had read reviews that the murder scenes were graphic and I was like “thanks for the warning but I should be okay.” Well I want to say again:

BE WARNED, it is about as disturbing as you can imagine.

I wanted to make sure I said that because, despite my cautions above, this is a book I will recommend provided people understand the level of gut-wrenching depictions in the novel. It's not a book to read for pleasure and it is not a book I believe I will ever open again. However, I do believe that this is an IMPORTANT work and will be remembered as one of the seminal novels written about the 1980’s.

It shines a harsh and brutal light (if exaggerated for effect) on a way of life and a mind-set that has become, over time, all too familiar.

5.0 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION...though I'm likely never touching it again.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 75) (75 new)


TK421 Great review. I am in the same mindframe as you on this one. The WOW factor is so great, even after seven years since I read the book, that I often ask myself: Why the heck did I read it? Over the years the answer has morphed into many different reasons. But, I must add, since reading this book I have been unable to read anythingt else by Ellis. I have Lunar Park and Glamorama, and have attempted to read both of them numerous times. I'll read them. I just have to wait for my WOW to lessen a bit.


Stephen Thanks, Gavin. Like you, I am sure it will be a while before I even think about reading another book by Ellis. I am sure I will, but it will some time before I try.


message 3: by Kathryn (last edited Jan 31, 2011 02:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kathryn Great review! I'm happy you were able to appreciate the book. I was affected the same as you. Bet you want to read somehting simple and positive now, right!


Stephen Yes!! As soon as I was done, I quickly dove into a short sword and sorcery novel by Michael Moorcock Elric of Melniboné. I felt much better after I was done with it.


message 5: by Brandon (new)

Brandon Great review, Stephen.

I almost wished I had read this before I had seen the movie. The film had some insane scenes and I can only imagine they're intensified in the book.


Stephen Brandon wrote: "Great review, Stephen.

I almost wished I had read this before I had seen the movie. The film had some insane scenes and I can only imagine they're intensified in the book."


Brandon, I also saw the movie before reading the book and the book is sufficiently different and more intense that I think it is still worth reading.


message 7: by Brandon (new)

Brandon Good to know. Perhaps I will pick this up.


message 8: by mark (new) - rated it 1 star

mark monday i much prefer your review to the book itself!


Stephen mark wrote: "i much prefer your review to the book itself!"

Thanks Mark and I can certainly understand how you feel about the book. It was "over the top" disturbing and certainly one I would not visit again. I think I just found the whole numbing, mass consummerism leading to the breakdown of empathy and the creation of socio-paths like Bateman to have been really powerful. It certainly affected me.


Stephen Brian wrote: "Stephen, I think this is your best review ever!"

Thanks, Brian. That is nice to hear.


message 11: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Wow, I really want to read this book as much as I really don't. Great review.

Should I? Or shouldn't I.....


Stephen Stephanie wrote: "Wow, I really want to read this book as much as I really don't. Great review.

Should I? Or shouldn't I....."


If I have a vote, I would say definitely read it. As you can see from my review, it is not a feel good book and there are some truly disturbing scenes. However, the writing is excellent and the story is very compelling. In the end, it was a truly memorable reading experience and one that I am glad I had.


message 13: by Lou (new) - added it

Lou Great stuff! i will pair this up with Wasp Factory.


message 14: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Klappenskoff Really thought-provoking review, Stephen.
I came to it after reading your views about Brave New World (and 1984), so the sort of comment I wanted to make about the three books was:
With BNW and 1984, the question was how soon would these fictional worlds become reality? (Possible answer: It might already have happened.)
With AP, the question is: when will the world BEE was describing cease to be factual? (Possible answer: It might never happen, i.e., it might still be and continue to be real.)


message 15: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine Winrod I read this book years ago and it still haunts me. Creepy and disturbing, one of those books you NEVER forget. The movie, with actor Christian Bale, did not do justice to the book.


Melissa It's "tongue IN cheek".


Stephen Melissa wrote: "It's "tongue IN cheek"."

OUCH!! Thanks.


message 18: by Jakob (new)

Jakob I started the book but knowing what lay ahead I couldn't bring myself to continue. I decided that the movie was enough for me :P


Stephen I can certainly understand that, Jakob. This is a tough book to get through and I found it much more disturbing than the movie.


message 20: by Kerem (new)

Kerem Mermutlu yeah, great review. I agree that it will be remembered as an important book of its time. I remember when i read it a few years ago, the writing was so sharp and precise and at the same time a real page turner. It is shocking in parts, but does so for a reason. I think Bret Easton Ellis was really at the top of his game for this book. I've read less than zero and Glamorama and loved those too, but this one really stands out in his career.


Stephen Kerem wrote: "yeah, great review. I agree that it will be remembered as an important book of its time. I remember when i read it a few years ago, the writing was so sharp and precise and at the same time a real ..."

Thanks, Kerem. I haven't read anything else by Ellis yet but plan to check out some of his other work in the near future.


message 22: by Kerem (new)

Kerem Mermutlu The only book that i would avoid is Lunar Park, kind of hated that book, just felt really rushed and compared to his earlier stuff very light and a little boring. It's about a writer and toys in the night coming alive or something (again, i tried to read it a few years ago so i might be a little off with the description!). But Less than zero is beautiful in its use of language, very minimal, very sparse, and has a great atmosphere about youth and feeling lost. I guess, to me, glamorama is his masterpiece. The whole thing feels like a film and the ideas are very postmodern, and the writing, as usual, is simply flawless. I haven't read his new one though, i heard it got very mixed reviews.


Stephen Thanks for the info, Karem. I was planning on reading Less than Zero next and will pick up a copy of Glamorama as well. I just read the description and it sounds intriguing.


message 24: by Kerem (new)

Kerem Mermutlu No problem, i really loved reading his books, i just hope he doesn't start to go downhill as he gets older!!


Anthony Chavez Yes I agree with Kerem. When Lunar Park came out I actually went to a bookstore reading of it and met Bret Easton Ellis. He didn't even seem into it during the reading so even though I have an autographed copy it is a book I too never got into. Will probably try it again once I, like Stephen, read Glamorama and Less Than Zero.


Stephen Kerem wrote: "No problem, i really loved reading his books, i just hope he doesn't start to go downhill as he gets older!!"

I hear you. However, even if he does drop off quality-wise, this book alone is enough to cement him a pretty good career.


Anthony Chavez Stephen wrote:
I hear you. However, even if he does drop off quality-wise, this book ..."


Haha how true that is.


message 28: by Shawn (new)

Shawn Sorensen Strong review... the loss of empathy in the 80s has carried forward to today. I hope for ourselves and our country that we can open our brains and get in touch with how we truly feel. A lack of empathy can lead to neglect, and neglect kills, too. We just pretend not to care.


Stephen Shawn wrote: "Strong review... the loss of empathy in the 80s has carried forward to today. I hope for ourselves and our country that we can open our brains and get in touch with how we truly feel. A lack of e..."

Thanks, Shawn...and you make an excellent point about the loss of empathy.


message 30: by Will (new) - added it

Will I've actually considered reading this book, and I know what you mean with books that make your head spin. I felt that same way after I read Naked Lunch. I ended up hating it though hahaha but I think i'll probably read this sounds like a fun book.


message 31: by Kerem (new)

Kerem Mermutlu I'd have to agree Will, Naked lunch is meant to be a 'classic' and parts of it are good, but as a complete book its an utter mess, some parts really unreadable. At least Ellis will give you a story and a few characters for you to work with.


Stephen I have heard similar things about Naked Lunch. I haven't read that one yet, but it is on my "to tackle" list.


message 33: by Kerem (new)

Kerem Mermutlu ha ha! 'to tackle' is exactly right! I tried to read some of his other stuff too, but man, to difficult for me.


Stephen Kerem wrote: "ha ha! 'to tackle' is exactly right! I tried to read some of his other stuff too, but man, to difficult for me."

I would guess that I will have the same problem. Still, it's one of the books I feel I have to try for myself as it feels like a hole in my reading list.


message 35: by Kerem (last edited Aug 28, 2011 07:14AM) (new)

Kerem Mermutlu I know what you mean, there are some books you have to try just to see why.


message 36: by Bill (new)

Bill I saw the movie made of this many years ago, I suspect the book has a far greater impact.

Reading your review about how this book reflects 80s apathy, I was reminded of a movie that had such a strong impact on me. It's called In the Company of Men. Not an easy movie to watch, just for the psychological and sociological punch to the gut. Oh, and your wife may hate you and all men after watching it :)


Stephen Bill wrote: "Reading your review about how this book reflects 80s apathy, I was reminded of a movie that had such a strong impact on me. It's called In the Company of Men."

I am familiar with "In the Company of Men" but have not seen it. I know the basic plot and I can imagine how difficult it would be to watch. I will probably give it a go at some point.

I think American Psycho the book has a much greater impact than the movie (which I still thought was good). The sense of pervading apathy and callousness is much better drawn in the book and the violence is far more brutal.


message 38: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Great Review! I had to put it down and couldn't finish it back in the '90s, but I'm made of sterner stuff now so I probably need to give it another try. My favorite of his is Lunar Park. I like the serious Stephen, well done.


message 39: by Nastassja (new)

Nastassja Great review! I have honestly been on the fence about reading this for 2-3 years. I still think I might be on the fence. Lol.


message 40: by Anne (Booklady) (new)

Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo Wow!


Stephen Jeffrey wrote: "Great Review! I had to put it down and couldn't finish it back in the '90s, but I'm made of sterner stuff now so I probably need to give it another try. My favorite of his is Lunar Park. I like t..."

Thanks, Jeffrey. I have Lunar Park and have heard good things. I think I am going to try Less Than Zero next but will move Lunar Park up behind it.


Stephen Anne (Booklady) wrote: "Wow!"

I hope that's a good wow.


message 43: by Lea (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lea Your review really sums up my feelings about this book! I have (IMO) unfairly given it only 2 stars, but the truth is I really didn't like it. Was it well written? Yes. Is it a valuable piece of literature? IMO, yes. Would I EVER read it again? HELL NO!

I am NOT a fan of horror in any shape or form -- so why do I keep reading this stuff?! -- and many of the scenes in this book still shock and horrify me. And I read this over 20 years ago!

It's really great for stimulating discussion, though -- even (or possibly especially!) when the other party hasn't actually READ the book, LOL.

I found the narrator's deterioration as the story progressed especially interesting, and I have always found the final scenes of the book both chilling and heartrending.

Great review!


message 44: by Anne (Booklady) (last edited Mar 09, 2012 09:14PM) (new)

Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo Stephen wrote: "Anne (Booklady) wrote: "Wow!"

I hope that's a good wow."


I'll let you know when I read it. After finishing Murder at The Washington Tribune,
I am reading Carry the One now, then The Ice Princess and then American Gods.
And you always write a good review.


Stephen Thanks, Lea. I don't think you were unfair in your 2 star rating at all. Just honest. As I mentioned in my review, I don't think I will ever pick this up again (and I actually like horror very much). Some of the scenes are stamped on my psyche and I don't think will ever leave. I did find it brilliant though and as an indictment on the culture of the 80's, I don't think it has been topped.


Stephen Nastassja wrote: "Great review! I have honestly been on the fence about reading this for 2-3 years. I still think I might be on the fence. Lol."

Thanks, Natassja. I understand being on the fence with this one. It's a tough book...but also brilliant.


Bethica I remember reading this one after rave recommendations and had to put it down because I found it so dull. It seemed to me to drag on with almost no point. It must have got better shortly after I put it down? I wasn't impressed at all.


message 48: by Tyson (new)

Tyson I enjoyed your review, but you highlight why I will never read this book.


message 49: by Tim (new) - added it

Tim Excellent review as always! Your reviews are that damn good you should do a review anthology!


message 50: by Kiri (last edited Mar 10, 2012 09:14AM) (new)

Kiri Stephen wrote: "Thanks, Gavin. Like you, I am sure it will be a while before I even think about reading another book by Ellis. I am sure I will, but it will some time before I try."

If it helps his other novels do not go into the dark side like that - this novel was a departure from his usual plot topics. The first half of the book is more of the style you'll see. Ellis is one of my favorite authors, and ultimately I think he'll be seen as seminal for depicting the era truthfully from the perspective of the time and delineating the social mores and etc stemming from then as well. This book is my least favorite (I had much the same reaction to the second half) but I keep it for much the same reasons you are.

His other books deal with serious subject matter as well but they do not get THAT dark. Don't hesitate to pick another up based upon this. =)

Interesting tidbit -- when it was first published there was a problem getting the unabridged format here in the US. I can't recall precisely what was going on but I think the sheer graphic violence and etc was the issue and publishers either wouldn't publish it or were insisting on an abridged (less violent) version. As a result a friend (someone else who enjoys his work) sent me a copy out of Australia as it was the only way to get it back then.

p.s. I'd read something else before Lunar Park - like someone else said I don't feel it is up to his usual standards.


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