Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Scary monsters

I’m not easily shocked, me.

I grew up in a household where my parents thought nothing of letting an eight-year-old watch X-rated or even banned horror films on a Sunday morning before returning them to the video shop. I saw the original Evil Dead, I Spit on Your Grave, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Superstition, the Exorcist, Driller Killer….all that good stuff. I also used to read my Nanny’s horror books on visits to her flat (Pan Horror collections – some of the nastiest pulp-horror fiction around). I still love a good horror film or story, but occasionally it backfires on me.

Some films over the years have properly scared the living daylights out of me. After watching Halloween (at the tender age of, ooh, twelve or so), I spent months not looking in the bathroom mirror. Even though this didn’t feature in the film, I couldn’t shake the conviction that the blank mask of Michael Myers would appear in the mirror behind me, and still can’t sleep in a room with an uncovered mirror in it (our full-length mirror lives in our wardrobe!). The Blair Witch Project rendered me sleepless for days. I can watch it again now, but for literally months it haunted me – I just couldn’t shake the last scene from my mind. Books, though? Not so much.

Until now.

I ordered American Psycho a couple of months ago. I started reading it, got about halfway through and moved on to something else – not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but due to my current short attention span. At the point I left it, it was just starting to really explore the skewed landscape behind Patrick Bateman’s eyes. I was loving the book – I know it’s fashionable to slate it, but I really got into the superficiality of Bateman’s world – a world where the material is all, and where the young bucks of Wall Street are so alike in dress, attitude and obsession with detail as to be interchangeable, a world where, even as his life unravels in the most horrific of ways, Patrick is still unnaturally obsessed with his hair mousse. Nobody ever recognises anyone, nobody ever looks further than what they are wearing or where the next gram of coke is coming from. Satire? Yes, and done with masterful understatement.

With this in mind, I picked the book up again on Sunday morning. Mistake.

I understand the detached nature of the language when describing the ferocity of Patrick Bateman’s encounters with his victims. As he descends further into madness these killings, whether real or imagined, become increasingly explicit in their intensity and detail. Bret Easton Ellis has already allowed an insight into the extent of Bateman’s unravelling sanity, and the worsening depravity described as the book progresses illustrates perfectly how thin the line between control and madness can stretch.

But, here’s the thing.

I couldn’t read it any more. I couldn’t have those words, and the images they unavoidably generated, in my head for a moment longer. I've put the book back in the bookcase, and spent a largely sleepless* Monday night resolutely thinking about whiskers on kittens and raindrops on roses - anything to erase those words and images from my head. I know that's the intended reaction - nobody in full control of their mental faculties could feel anything other than horror and revulsion at those scenes**, but I just couldn't read on. So, here's my dilemma.

I hate to leave a book unfinished. I've read reviews of the book that, while not outright spoiling the ending, allude to the fact that it's unsatisfactory. Is it worth me risking another sleepless night just to see how it comes out? It's a matter of pride to some extent - am I really such a wuss that I can't even finish a work of fiction?

In other news, I resigned today. Woo!

* Seriously. I think I managed three hours, tops.
** All you reviewers on Amazon? The ones who just had to point out how funny you found the torture and murder scenes? I call liar. If you can get through either Bethany or Christie's demise without feeling physically sick, you might want to consider some counselling. In my opinion.

38 Comments:

Blogger Kellycat chimed in with...

I've never been the first to read your post!

Could never read The Fourth Queen again because of the torture scenes.

Scariest moment in a book - the part in 1984 when you read "You are the dead". I actually yelped first time I read that.

15 August, 2006 19:35  
Blogger Kellycat chimed in with...

p.s. When you post the expose of our workplace, please don't get me dooced...

Not that anything happens to expose.

15 August, 2006 19:36  
Blogger suburban wonder chimed in with...

I had that experience with Toni Morrison's "Beloved." I got halfway through and was so freaked out I had to put the book away forever.

Couldn't see the movie, either.

15 August, 2006 19:42  
Blogger longcat chimed in with...

good on you for leaving your job... fantastic...

and then the book... surely the worst is over in that if you don't read it - it will plague you - and the worst that can happen if you do read it is he can open up a particularly nasty inward place and not resolve it properly... but isn't that where you're at now?

i'd read it (not that i have read it)

x

15 August, 2006 19:51  
Blogger longcat chimed in with...

PS - the image is annoying me, the angle of the knife as it appears wouldn't reflect his face like that...

there's a coffee shop on highgate with a drawing on the wall that irritates me in much the same way, it's made to look like a technical drawing but the bit showing the scale is unequal, so 100 metres is the same size as 50 metres... i almost couldn't talk to my friend because of it...

almost...

x

15 August, 2006 19:54  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

ooh, longcat - the minute i noticed that angle it began to annoy me....perhaps i should focus on that?!

15 August, 2006 20:09  
Anonymous Beth chimed in with...

Oh, congratulations!
There are few things as exciting as resigning. Such a feeling of freedom.

Oh, and HATED that book and had to immediately read children's classics to purge my mind.

15 August, 2006 20:20  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

ah, but did you finish it?

and kellycat? if you don't contribute to any sort of leaving presentation for me, i promise not to get you dooced.

15 August, 2006 20:33  
Blogger Darwin chimed in with...

I've read the book and quite liked it. I think it's very well written and yes it is one of the few books that affected me emotionally. It is exactly how you describe it and I'll admit the gory bits are certainly very cringe-worthy.

I'd advice reading the book (because I hate unfinished books too!) and then just reading a harmless fluffy happy book like a Danielle Steele or Catherine Alliot or even a P.G. Wodehouse to take your mind off it maybe?

15 August, 2006 21:00  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

American Psycho was my favourite book EVER when I was seventeen.

I re-read it a few years later and really struggled for the very reasons you've explained.

Then I read it again last year, and my thoughts were somewhere in between. You just have to keep reminding yourself 'it's a satire'.

PS - congrats on the job-quitting. Go Surly.

15 August, 2006 21:31  
Blogger GreatSheElephant chimed in with...

I read an extract from it (the homeless person) and that was enough. Periodically I fantasise about what I'd say to Brett Easton Ellis if I met him at a party but to be honest, I think I'd be unable to be anywhere near him. I think there are some things that simply shouldn't be thought up and letting them into our heads lessens us. I get quite disturbed by how inured and hardened we get to things that initially shock us. So I say don't finish it.

Referring back to the dating posts elsewhere, that actually is my bottom line criteria. If you enjoyed that book, you are not for me. Pretty much anything else is negotiable (except obviously stuff like living that book).

15 August, 2006 23:33  
Blogger GreatSheElephant chimed in with...

oh, that and liking practical jokes.

So a psychotic Jeremy Beadle for example wouldn't appeal.

15 August, 2006 23:37  
Anonymous Piggy and Tazzy chimed in with...

Fuck me* You're still alive!

Why haven't I been here for ages? I dunno. Laziness, I suppose.

Book reviews? Have you gone soft in the head?

Yay! to resigning. I hope you nicked a box of pens too, just to add some drama.

* please don't

16 August, 2006 00:14  
Blogger Mudlark chimed in with...

I'd leave it alone and read something sunny and daft. Children's classics are a great way to detox - Arthur Ransome and Barbara Sleigh do it for me.

16 August, 2006 01:14  
Blogger Arabella chimed in with...

This is more or less how I reacted to the book (thanks for putting it so well) - and I didn't finish it. I pressed on, trying to concentrate on the stylistic strengths but it was just too..hellish. I wasn't convinced that it was a work of satire; I remember giving the book away quite quickly.
For violent satire, have you tried Jim Thompson?
Resigning can be wonderful. Like boarding a train.
Oh, and sweet dreams!

16 August, 2006 06:33  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

I loved the Pan Horror stories as well. Did you read the one about the man who died after breeding too many snails? They got out of control and smothered him.

16 August, 2006 09:37  
Blogger Betty chimed in with...

Can't comment on the book as I've not read it: have seen the film though and wasn't too disturbed by it. I can only assume that (a) it had diluted the story or (b) I am a sick, twisted individual. Maybe both.

God, I wish I'd had the guts to resign from some of the jobs I had ...

16 August, 2006 09:42  
Blogger frangelita chimed in with...

Betty - the book is much, much sicker than the film.

SG, apart from congrats on an extreme act of bravery, I have read it all the way to the end. My ex told me I had to read it cos there were rumours Leonardo di Caprio was going to play Patrick Bateman and he couldn't bear the thought of me seeing that without knowing the book.

I hated it but thought it was brilliant. I won't read it again because I'm not that masochistic and I think it probably revolted me more than any book I've ever read.

But, I would still read it to the end if I was you because if you've read the Bethany and Christie bits I think you're past the worst. And I think the end, which does pose a lot of questions, is brilliantly unsettling. You will be uncomfortable until you've finished it (and probably afterwards).

So read it, and follow it immediately by something like Judy Blume's Forever. Or anything with a pale green or pink cover and a shiny, golden, title written in loopy type.

16 August, 2006 10:38  
Blogger Billy chimed in with...

American Psycho is like a cross between a Beckett novel and Vanity Fair (the magazine not the novel). With horribly graphic murders.

Bateman works at Pierce and Pierce which is the same firm as Sherman McCoy in the Bonfire of the Vanities. Not sure why that was done.

Did he actually do the murders are are they in his head?

16 August, 2006 10:49  
Blogger FUNKYBROWNCHICK chimed in with...

Ooh, ooh ... ditto the comment way at the top of this list: the "You are the dead" line from the book 1984 sent **CHILLS** up my spine.

Hey, that's great that you quit your job. I'm sure many wonderful things are in your future.

Now, about this American Psycho book ... I couldn't finish it either. I saw the movie. I sat through the whole thing, watched the end credits too, because it's soooo much tamer than the book. The book scared the shit out of me.

16 August, 2006 12:24  
Blogger Wyndham chimed in with...

Bateman appears in a cameo in Glamorama, the utterly appalling Supermodel As Terrorists drama, and he has a spot of blood on his lovely suit - so I presume the implication is that he did the murders.

16 August, 2006 14:41  
Blogger Orelinde_03 chimed in with...

I had watched some of (if not all of) American Psycho, and I didn't care for it. However I do love having the bejezus scared out of me at times. Is A.P. a better read than seeing the flick?

16 August, 2006 16:00  
Blogger mig bardsley chimed in with...

Ever since seeing the Excorcist I've been quite unable to watch another horror film or read another horror book. I'm a total coward on the subject. I'd read the book so I had no idea it was going to do that to me!

Congratulations on freedom. Good luck with whatever next.

16 August, 2006 16:00  
Blogger mig bardsley chimed in with...

Er...Exorcist.

16 August, 2006 16:12  
Blogger First Nations chimed in with...

i couldn't even make it through the movie...the sheer nihillistic bleakness was enough to repel me. i didn't even get to the murders.
remember...its just a book. you don't have to finish it. some things you just instinctively know you don't probably need in your life. i'd say getting grossed out to that extent is a pretty good indication you've reached that point. same reason i skimmed over parts of aleister crowley's autobi...the sheer depth of the mental illness got suffocating after awhile.

16 August, 2006 16:13  
Blogger Orelinde_03 chimed in with...

Hands down, Exorcist is the SCARIEST movie ever. I couldn't sleep for a month!!! As a kid, when it would be aired on tv, mum never let me watch, stating how scary it was. I never believed her as I grew up...but never saw it.

Then when it was released for the anniversary, watched it on Pay-per-view, in the comfort of my home...with my aunt. I was in my 20's then, and a seasoned horror fanatic. Well, 1/2 way into the Exorcist I kept asking my aunt if she was bored and wanted me to take it off. (I phrased it that way, because I was scared shitless and didn't want her to know.) HA! Joke was on me, because she fell asleep, but in her sleep said 'no it's good'. So I wound up watching it by myself, with her sleeping, afraid to move.

Yep, Exorcist, I will never watch again.

16 August, 2006 16:44  
Blogger Tamburlaine chimed in with...

I agree with First Nations - there's no law that says you have to finish a book once you've started it. If I found a book as disturbing as you find American Psycho (I've not read it and am not planning to) I would definitely put it down and read something else instead.

Congratulations on resigning, though: hope all goes well once you leave work.

16 August, 2006 17:47  
Anonymous Thursday chimed in with...

For the first time in about ten years, I'm actually in the midst of reading a book for pleasure rather than for work but believe me, it certainly isn't that one. (Jitterbug Perfume which I have read before but is equally good second time round). Haven't read American Psycho, wouldn't read it in a million years and wouldn't bother if I were you. The unanswered questions in your head about it will fade in time I'm sure particularly as I assume you're going to be looking for and starting a new job soon.

Whatcha gonna do Surly?

16 August, 2006 18:01  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

not telling. i'm looking forward to a fabulous new job, and to not having to worry about getting dooced! i'm going to try really hard not to blog about the specifics of my new job, but it's going to be hard as i'm so excited about it.

oh, and orelinde? DO NOT read american psycho. it's not horror per se, it's graphic, explicit violence and murder. not scary, just gets-in-your-head out and out disturbing.

you have to wonder about bret easton ellis' state of mind, really. i know it's satire and all, but to come up with some of that stuff.....

16 August, 2006 18:58  
Blogger Orelinde_03 chimed in with...

Surly Girl...point taken. Thanks for the heads up on the novel.

And more importantly...CONGRATS about leaving the job and good luck on your next endevor.

16 August, 2006 21:48  
Anonymous Thursday chimed in with...

Sounds highly exciting Surly, are you going to work from home and turn into Nicola Horlick?

17 August, 2006 11:11  
Blogger Annie Rhiannon chimed in with...

I read that book when I was 16. I loved it so much I re-read it about 4 times. For the biography section about Bruce Springsteen mostly.

17 August, 2006 11:24  
Anonymous Other Half chimed in with...

As someone who shared in the consequences of SG reading this book I can attest to the fact it had a very upsetting impact and not one I want her to go through again.

If I'm not enjoying a book I have no problem abandoning it, why waste valuable free time on something if you don't have to ?

...and what kind of damaged personality must the author have to conjure up such writing that has clearly disturbed many of it's readers.

17 August, 2006 13:14  
Blogger Perry Neeham chimed in with...

On one level it's the ultimate sickest, vilest book. But it's also extremely well written.

Go ahead, finish it (you know you want to). You're past the nastiest bits and as Billy says, "Did he actually do the murders are are they in his head"?

17 August, 2006 13:47  
Blogger belladona chimed in with...

Heh. I'm such a wimp compared to you lot. The book I nearly couldn't read because of its horrible rape scene was 'Deerskin' by Robin McKinley, which is I think meant to be a kids book. I still think it's one of the most disturbing things I've ever read. Bah. Though I did watch Halloween completely undisturbed.

17 August, 2006 19:47  
Blogger Katy Newton chimed in with...

I am a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis, or was of his first books (I prefer Donna Tartt, who is his best friend or something - their writing style is quite similar but I think she's got more depth). I'll never read American Psycho though. Picked it up in Smiths, opened it at a random page, read 2 lines of one of the murder scenes, put it down and have never been tempted to read it since.

So I quite understand how you feel. I like horror fiction and I like thrillers and I had no problem with Last Exit to Brooklyn which is pretty violent in places, but American Psycho was a bridge too far for me.

20 August, 2006 18:17  
Blogger DavetheF chimed in with...

You want to see the movie. It's very funny and sick, thanks to C Bale, who seems to be imagining the whole thing. Though how you imagine yourself taking a power saw to someone because of their business card design is a bit of a puzzle. Mind yoy, come to think of it ...

21 August, 2006 20:03  
Blogger DavetheF chimed in with...

Glamorama is a piece of shit. I can see he's going on about hedonism and style trumping content, but he seems to be devilishly amused by it. I read a few chunks, but ditched it in the end.

21 August, 2006 20:07  

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