In 1991, Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho stirred-up a hornet’s nest of outrage from critics and feminists before it was published. The novel was scorned for its graphic depictions of violence, especially against women.
In the novel serial killer Patrick Bateman describes his murders in excruciating detail. He also describes his daily life in the same excruciating detail, in flat atonal first-person prose.
From brushing his teeth to eating meals, all of Bateman’s is life is ritualized, and disturbing. His frame of mind is eerily like that of Frank Cauldhame, protagonist of Iain Bank’s The Wasp Factory.
Like Bateman, Cauldhame’s life is ritualized: he’s developed a fantasy world that often involves torturing and killing animals (apparently a common trait of serial killers). Within that fantasy world is the Wasp Factory, an old clock Cauldhame uses to kill wasps in an labyrinthine torture chamber.
Like Bateman, Cauldhame, 17, has also murdered — in his case family members: one cousin with an adder, another cousin with a giant kite, and a younger brother with a bomb that had lain unexploded since World War II.
As sinister as Cauldhame is, what makes this novel palatable is the language and voice of its narrator. The flat tone of American Psycho makes it almost impossible to read without experiencing the overwhelming desire to pluck your eyes out.
Cauldhame has a voice. He’s almost pleasant to follow as he tours the reader through his darkly comic fantasy world.
You actually sort of care for Cauldhame. You want to know what happens to him and what caused his need to kill and torture.
And Banks reveals this with a twist that even Ambrose Bierce would have been envious of.