The riveting storyline meant that I finished the novel in one sitting (about two years ago), but it was also hard to get through some of the more drawn-out, graphic sequences, especially of torture, murder, and cannibalism. That one scene which has unfortunately stuck involved the use of a rat on and in a kidnapped woman, by the twisted protagonist Patrick Bateman. In fact, I purchased the novel after watching the film adaptation starring Christian Bale, which – in my opinion – was far less grisly, and did not include this scene.
I wanted to get these disturbing features out of the way first, because there is more to the novel than these depraved scenes and sequences. Moreover Bateman is an unreliable narrator, so in the stream-of-consciousness narrative many of his interactions may not have happened. Instead, I enjoyed the critique of capitalism (as a young investment banker, Bateman has conversations about the most materialistic concerns with his Wall Street counterparts), the superficiality of these conversations (when they – for instance – sustain one about the font and colour of different name cards), and the consumer culture (of haute cuisine at restaurants, like the recurring Dorsia). As a reader such a society is hardly appealing, so Bateman’s disinterest is not hard to fathom.
Yet – despite these bland and banal circumstances – there is no sympathy for Bateman, as his sadistic urges intensify and eventually climax in a shooting spree, in which he is pursued by enforcement officers and a helicopter, and culminates in a supposed confession to the answering machine of his attorney. While prim and proper in regular settings, as fitting of his employment and socio-economic status, he turns violent within two apartments, where many of the aforementioned incidents happen. Again, one is not sure whether the incidents did happen, since at the end of the novel it appears that the key killing of his colleague Paul Owen (Paul Allen in the film adaptation) might not have happened.
Continued ambiguity drives the storyline, and Ellis makes the conversations or interactions – and by extension, the novel – even more engaging when the other characters are oblivious to Bateman’s confessions. In one of these exchanges, the young investment banker spoke of his involvement in “murders and executions”, which was heard as “mergers and acquisitions”. A good read, overall.