‘ Chronic youth: AMERICAN PSYCHO
I The Redundancy of Courage Timothy Mo (Chatto & Windus £13.99) Huddled on the eastern half ofan island just north ofAustralia. Mo‘s imaginary Danu is a sleepy. inconsequential nation. When its war-like neighbour spills across the border. the Danuese are caught off guard. sipping coffee and mouthing lofty rhetoric in the town square. Some ofthem flee to the hills to wage a guerrilla campaign.
An unlikely narrator talks the reader into the lean. hunted existence ofthe resistance fighters.
i A member of the docile Chinese merchant class. Adolph Ng is a
f gentle. self-effacing homosexual. ln 5 his story. military hardware. sabotages. ambushes. strategies.
I counter-thrustsand casualties are explored in lavish detail. But with his wit and ordinariness. Adolph turns what would otherwise be a book for the Soldier of Fortune reader into an engaging and thoughtful novel for people who don’t care how an M-lb differs from a 03. Every choice he makes in this shifting. bewildering world is disquietingly normal. And he knows it.
Mo has a sharp sense oftiming that fills the book with a compelling. what-will-happen-next urgency.
Mostly. the style is trimmer than in his last book. making scenes of executions particularly horrifying. ()ther characters and the appalling conditions are sketched so unflinchingly that. like the drifting Adolph. the reader is dragged offthe ‘ sidelines and into the melee. ((‘arl llonore)
I East 18 East T. (‘oraghessan Boyle (Jonathan (‘ape £14.99)'l‘his. T. (‘oraghessan Boyle‘s fourth novel. brings to mind [)own By [.(llt'. Not only does the author resemble Tom Waits. the book. like the film. is set
in the swampy wilderness of the deep
south ofthe US. and. in both. the theme of escaping prisoners is central to the plot.
[fast ls East follows the picaresque misadventures of the hapless lliro Tanaki. an AWOL Japanese sailor pursued by an albino policeman and a psychopathic immigration agent.
' 'l‘anaki jumps ship and swims to Tupelo Island. home to a colony of eccentric artists. one of whom. writer Ruth Dershowitz. shelters the fugitive.
Tanaki is in fact half-American. and the title refers to the search for his roots — Samurai or American? East or West'.’ He cannot be both. Though this dichotomy is ostensibly the book‘s ruison (I'étre. Boyle uses the well-w orn epigram to examine other diametric opposites: nature v art. male v female. chaos v order. and jungle v civilisation.
For the most part the author’s
If you have been prompted by the howls of outrage which have already greeted American Psycho into contemplating buying the book, think again. Twenty-six-year-old Bret Easton Ellis‘ third novel has been extensively lambasted for its sickening accounts of torture and murder, mainly of women; but while these brief sections are so graphic that most people would be forced to put the book down, the bulk of the 400 pages are virtually unreadable foranother reason -their extreme tedium.
Narrated by the titular character, a young New York executive named Patrick Bateman, American Psycho details, exhaustively, his working life. his obsession with good clothes, top-of-the-range consumer durables, and haute cuisine. Bateman and his associates, we soon realise, are yuppie snobs, commodity fetishists who will end a friendship if someone buys the wrong music system or mispronounces the name of a Japanese dish.
While a common complaint about the book has been the lack of characterisation, a more accurate criticism would be that the characterisation is extremely shallow. There is, in fact, too much description of the lives of Bateman and his peer group: long after we know what these people are like, the author goes on and on listing their habits. Sushi, sashimi and zabaglione are in Ellis’ vocabulary; subtlety is not.
Psychotics, like dictators, fascinate some people because of the enormity oftheir deeds; viewed in the abstract,
f BRET EASTON ELLlS
as individuals, theytend to be dull in
i the extreme. In that sense, the scenes of violence, ofdeath and dismemberment in American Psycho are, by definition, gratuitous: they add nothing whatsoever to our understanding of the narrator. Whether
he chooses to stick a power drill into a
j woman’s elbow ratherthan her knee
i does not take us too far in our attempt
g to unravel his psyche.
What the scenes in the book which
read like a high-speed collision
between Open Beaver Monthly and the
j Black 8. Decker catalogue do tell us is
i that, recession or not, violence against
, women remains big business. This is
l the aspect of American Psycho which
5 has caused most furore, and which led
. Simon & Schuster, who were originally to publish the US edition, to cancel the project. The publishers‘ decision in
turn induced some bleating about
censorship, which did seem to miss the point: the right to freedom of speech, after all, does not imply the obligation of a commercial company to publish your misogynistlc meanderings.
Ellis has justified the excesses of American Psycho by saying that the whole thing is an indictment of the vacuous materialism of the 803; indeed, a chapter towards the end of the book attempts to make that explicit. This is at best idiotic, at worst disingenuous in the extreme: of the vacuous materialists l have met, some drink too much, others are slaves to fashion: none buy power drills and go around killing people.
Even giving the author the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he was genuinely attempting a morally- motivated critique of a spiritually bankrupt society, one has to say he has failed utterly. Hubert Selby's Last Exit To Brooklyn - itself the subject of censorship and severe disapproval — was, if anything, more disturbing in
parts, precisely because it was a convincingly realistic depiction of a dehumanised society. Selby’s vision, however, was a deeply human one, an almost saintly attempt to comprehend the everyday evils of New York slum life.
Ellis, conversely, has nothing but contempt for his characters. While this attitude provides moments of light relief, particularly in the chapters where Bateman pretentiously analyses his favourite music-Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News, Whitney Houston — in general it adds to the impression that Ellis is just as vacuously materialistic as his characters.
(Stuart Bathgate) American Psycho is published in paperback by Picador, priced £6.99.
dynamism and wit drive the action along at a cracking pace. Sometimes. though. it feels as though the humidity and torpor of the swamp have got to him. Along the way various sub-plots add texture and depth. Boyle proving particularly adept at conveying the workings of the female mind. (Wendy Robertson)
I Backhand Liza (‘ody (Chatto and Windus. £13.99) (‘ody‘s creation. Anna Lee. is a thoroughly ordinary soul distinguished only by her penchant for phrases like ‘Flaming Nora’ and ‘Alright Ducky‘. She is busy contending with the usual boyfriend. neighbours and work niggles when Abracadabra — a fairy godmother in the guise of brash American businesswoman. Lara. tempts her away from the ‘dishwasber life' to become a private-eye and hot foot it up the trail of some missing woolly jumpers and one missing daughter. This. in turn. leads her to a close shave with the Miami mob-squad. Stateside. Heady stuff. huh‘.’
Well. maybe not. but .‘yls (‘ody
dispenses such caustic wit and flair for spare. snappy dialogue. alongside a deft smart—alec approach to prose. that it‘s unfortunate that a decidedly ‘unbeefy‘ plot lets her down: it waddles along in such an easy—osey fashion that the whole concept of suspense dies 21 very early death. (Ann Donald)
I City OfThe Mind Penelope Lively (Andre Deutsch £12.99) Matthew is an architect. It‘s not what his parents wanted. but they came round. His wife. Susan. was also not what they wanted but she and Matthew are now separated. lie is amazed that they were once so much in love. Their daughter Jane is their only link and a source of wonderment to Matthew.
The scene is set. but a plot. as such. does not rnaterialise. This is a stream of meandering imagery and metaphor revolving around the considerations of time and space that fill Matthew‘s head as he travels round the building sites which are to become tomorrow‘s permanance but. eventually. will be long gone
and forgotten. At first appearance. this is ajumble ofunstructured ideas, a derailed train ofthought interspersed with snippets of Matthew‘s childhood. ofthe lives of other characters from time gone by. Look closer. and you see nothing and everything happening. This is a study oflife as it is. admitting that some things are never resolved. but must be accepted. Matthew dips in and out ofa relationship with the rootless Alice, sees his projects , through. deals with his domestic l situation. i At times this book can drag. but it’s clever. with excellent characterisation. which sketches I moving on and growing. all touched 1 with sweet irony. (Susan Mackenzie) '
I Six Miles To Roadside Business Michael Doane (Jonathan (‘ape £14.99) Michael Doane's third novel explores some big themes. There is a
lot ofphilosophising going on in the Escalante Desert — basically because there's little else to do. Roadside Business is the name ofthe desert town where Vance Ravel's‘ father killed hirnselfby walking into the
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