Thursday, 8 July 2010

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

A satire not exactly endowed with subtlety, American Psycho is Ellis’s take on the late-eighties, early-nineties super rich, the gilded youth working in the top banks in New York. Among them is Patrick Bateman, twenty six, sophisticated, suave, handsome and psychotic.

Of course, take a step back from Bateman and it’s quickly apparent that the high living circle that he works and parties with is effectively sociopathic in its unrelenting pursuit of an ideal: the best restaurants, the best clothes, the best sexual partner. Bateman is the satirically logical extension of this in that he has taken his sociopathic nature to the point of killing people in increasingly gruesome ways.

Alcohol plays its part, but brand names only. There’s a running gag (one of many) in the book that Bateman’s friend Price can never get hold of Finlandia vodka:

“I told you to keep Finlandia in this place,” Tim mutters, looking through the bottles – most of them magnums – at the bar. “She never has Finlandia,” he says to no one, to all of us. “Oh god, Timothy. Can’t handle Absolut?” Evelyn asks...

In fact faux-pas with beverages are two-a-plenty. On their way out to a soirée, Price whines to Bateman about the choice of dinner guests:

“Maybe one of Evelyn’s ‘artiste’ friends from ohmygod the ‘East’ Village. You know the type – the ones who ask Evelyn if she has a nice dry white chardonnay – ”

Bateman finishes the evening, concentrating on:

...the Absolut and cranberry I’m holding and it looks like a glassful of thin watery blood with ice and a lemon wedge in it.

Of course, in a world that’s only interested in status, booze can be used as a slight. In an evening out at ‘Pastels’, a fellow trader sends over a complimentary bottle of champagne. Leaving it untouched, Bateman and his friends depart for a nightclub:

“Van Patten,” I say. “Did you see the comp bottle of champagne Montgomery sent over?” “Really?” Van Patten asks, leaning over McDermott. “Let me guess. Perrier-Jouët?” “Bingo,” Price says. “Nonvintage.” “Fucking weasel,” Van Patten says.

There was a temptation in the mid nineties to say that this was an eighties infatuation and that the madness had passed: books like American Psycho and Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities could be seen as historical texts. The recent financial crash and the subsequent resurgence of an unapologetic, all devouring, super wealthy class of bankers prove that this was not the case. There is still a section of society that is just as psychotically money crazed as it always was and Ellis’s novel is as pertinent today as it was when it came out two decades ago.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. The outrageous wall street bonuses prove the bankers are out of control i'm sure to the point of 'American psycho'. Scary world we live in run by bastards like that.