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Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2003

    American Psycho:Uncovered

    We have been in need of a series like Continuum Contemporaries for a long time. Unlike the watered-down reader¿s guides produced by York Notes (and in the US `Cliff¿s Notes¿) these little books tackle text¿s which have gained something of a cult status in the late twentieth century, and do so from a perspective which is at once approachable enough for the recreational reader, and rigorous enough for the advanced student. It is therefore fitting that a text so widely, and wildly, misunderstood as Bret Easton Ellis¿s `American Psycho¿. should be included amongst the Continuum survey. Julian Murphet is one of the foremost critics of Ellis¿s work, and what you get here are all the benefits of the breadth and depth of his knowledge, boiled down into a slim and precise volume. He provides us with a short biography of the author; an exploration of the narrative voice at work within the text; a discussion of the themes of alienation and reification and a survey of critical responses. He is, however, at his most engaging in his discussion of violence and politics, the real heart of the novel itself. He tackles the central, consuming question of whether the protagonist Patrick Bateman ever actually commits the murders so graphically rendered in the text¿s pages, in a manner that is exploratory and revelatory without ever being proscriptive. Thus we see an argument develop from the tentative suggestion that `everything could well be contained to the level of fantasy,¿ to the final assertion that the violence within `American Psycho¿ is `an act of language¿ and never really happens at all. He ties this argument in very neatly with an understanding of the text in its political context, seeing Bateman as a `pin-up boy for the establishment Right¿ during the Reagan era, and reading the real `murder¿ within the novel, not as that projected by Bateman, but rather as the `murder of the real¿ the erasure of all social difference and threat - what he terms `the gentrification of the city.¿ Murphet rounds this off with a great critique of the film version of the novel, his genuine academic appreciation of cinema in general, making this more than just a fan¿s opinion. No reader of `American Psycho¿ will ever wholly agree with any one theory, and indeed it is the paradoxical beauty of the novel that is never really gives you a definitive answer either way. Murphet¿s argument is one reading, but it is a very convincing one, and this text is a must for anyone who remains challenged by, and curious about, this work.

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