Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

Hello folks,

Just a quick post today about a book I read a few months back for our book group at work and still think about every now and again! I think that’s a sign of a good book – when you think about the plot and the characters and the themes every so often, like it has enriched your life just a little bit. The book I’m talking about is Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson.

The novel is set in Nigeria and narrated by 12-year-old Blessing. After the breakup of her parents’ marriage, and her mother subsequently losing her job, Blessing, her brother Ezikiel and their mother must leave their air-conditioned apartment in Lagos and move in with their grandparents in a poor village in Warri. We are introduced to a host of fascinating characters, each with their faults, but all very vivid and at times amusing. Blessing describes her new friends, her secretive trips helping her grandmother to deliver babies as the community birth attendant (her mother disapproves but Blessing wants to learn the trade), her brother Ezikiel’s trials at school and eventual involvement with a local gang, and her mother meeting a new man – a white boyfriend – and the family’s initial disapproval but gradual acceptance. The subject matter sounds heavy but it doesn’t come across that way, even though important political matters are touched upon. Though the family is poor and struggle to eat some days, the narrative is full of amusing and uplifting anecdotes and insights. I found the text straightforward, easy and enjoyable to read and, yes, difficult to put down!

I felt that there was a lot of depth and complexity to the novel and that reading it again would uncover further layers. The characters were all well constructed and their emotions and behaviour and stories drew you into the narrative. I normally find a few aspects of modern novels that I’m not keen on, but I didn’t find much to dislike in Watson’s novel. My only comment would be that certain events towards the end seemed a little surreal and jarred a little with the tone of the rest of the novel, but it didn’t stop me enjoying and appreciating such a wonderful depiction of a different culture.

I always enjoy reading about different countries and cultures, and felt so immersed in this Nigerian world that I was surprised to learn the author herself is not Nigerian. Watson is a white British novelist but this in no way makes the descriptions seem any less authentic. For more background information have a read of this enjoyable interview on the The Independent site here. There’s also a good review with a more thorough description of the issues raised in the novel here.

Cloud Atlas

At the moment I am reading Cloud Atlas. Partly because I added it to my top 5 the other week without having read it (I just liked the sound of it) and partly because I’ve seen the movie trailer and wanted to read the book before seeing it (I don’t think I’ll finish it in time though!).

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell tells the tales of six different characters in six different stories that are interwoven and nested like little Russian dolls. It begins with the 1850 diary of Adam Ewing, who is exploring the Chatham Islands as he waits for his ship to be repaired, then moves on to a series of letters from Robert Frobisher, a musician in Belgium in the 1930s (who incidentally happens to be reading Ewing’s diary).

The next story focuses on the recipient of these letters, Rufus Sixsmith, now an old man, and a young reporter called Luisa Rey who is investigating a cover-up at a nuclear power plant. Then we have ‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’, the tale of a publisher (who happens to have the manuscript of the ‘Luisa Rey Mystery’ in his bag) who ends up stuck in an old people’s’ home when escaping from the three angry brothers of one of his authors.

Next we jump forward in time to a future where the world is populated with clones as well as ‘pureblood’ humans. The tale focuses on Sonmi-451, a clone who works in a burger bar. She is is shown glimpses of the outside world by her friend and ‘ascends’ becoming self-aware and hungry for knowledge. She is rescued and allowed an education, and at one point watches a movie called ‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’.

After that is a post-apocalyptic tale set after ‘the fall’. It follows a young man called Zachry who lives a basic life herding goats. There is no electricity and no more technology, other that what the ‘prescients’ have retained. One day a prescient called Meronym comes to stay with Zachry and his family to find out about their way of life. Zachry discovers that Meronym has an ‘orison’ – a communication device which holds a recording of Sonmi telling her story.

Cloud Atlas

So, this is where I am, about half way through, and the rest of the book continues with the stories in reverse order. So I will finish Zachry’s story, then Sonmi’s, then Timothy’s, Luisa’s, Robert’s and finally Adam’s. The structure is exciting because you feel like there’s a build up and a meshing and interconnecting of characters across space and time. There’s just a small hint towards each story in the other, but that’s what makes it interesting.

The other thing I like about the structure of the novel is the fact that not every chapter is a straightforward narrative. The first chapter is styled as a diary, the second as a series of letters and the fifth as an interview transcript. The first two chapters are written in first person, the next two in third, and the final two in first again.

Mitchell also uses very different narrative voices for each story and the settings are all very different. This means that the stories are not easily confused and it’s fairly easy to keep track of what’s going on. The only problem is that some chapters are therefore more challenging to read than others. Mitchell uses dialects and vocabulary choices to reflect the time period the chapter is set in, so the nineteenth century diary has the tone of a classic novel; the letters from Robert Frobisher sound quite clipped and formal; and in the final story, Zachry has a very strong colloquial accent (I can’t quite imagine how it sounds), with the result that I found it impossible to decipher some of his sentences. The chapters I found most enjoyable were Luisa’s (the language was most straightforward here) and Sonmi’s, which had the sense that everything was so fast, powerful, commercialised  and inhuman that it was on its way to its own undoing. I also liked the use of current and invented brand names – it reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Somehow a world seems so much more tangible when it is filled with brand names!

Part of the reason I like Sonmi’s story the best is because it fits well into a science fiction or dystopian genre of writing. In fact, each of the stories seems to fall into a different genre. The diary reads like a classic novel (perhaps a Dickens); the letters equally read like a novel from the 1920s or 30s (like something by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Evelyn Waugh); the Luisa Rey mystery reads like a 1970s crime thriller; Cavendish’s story is oddly postmodern; Sonmi’s tale is dystopian; and the final chapter story is an odd mix of post-apocalyptic (something like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road where there’s an emphasis on family, relationships, survival in the wild, tribes, war and religion) and an almost biblical tale about a boy who goes up a mountain with a messianic woman, faces the devil, and comes back a man.

Finally, one little thing stood out to me that I particularly enjoyed. In Timothy Cavendish’s chapter he insults Mrs Noakes and she says ‘Because you are new I will not have you eat soap powder’; then at the start of Sonmi’s chapter we learn that clones eat a product called Soap.

Book Group Top 5

Hi everyone!

For our newsletter at work I have been putting together a list of our book group’s top 5 novels of the noughties. Here they are!

Book Club Top 5
 

1. Life of Pi – Yann Martel (2001)
A fantastical, allegorical and philosophical adventure story about a boy and a tiger stranded in a boat on the ocean.

2. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini (2007)
An emotional and gripping story about two Afghan women and their friendship in the face of violence, misery and abuse.

3. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (2003)
A dystopian novel set in a future where most humans have been wiped out by disease and the world is populated by genetically modified, human-like ‘Crakers’, and wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks.

4. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (2004)
A novel comprised of six beautifully interwoven stories from the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future.

5. The Help – Kathryn Stockett (2009)
A novel about black maids working in white households in 1960s Mississippi. Sad, funny, and full of wonderful characters – you can’t help but enjoy this book!

Three of these novels have been made into films already and another is apparently in the making, but in fact the one I think would make the best movie is Oryx and Crake. Someone needs to do this!

If you want to buy copies of any of these excellent novels you can click on the book title and it will take you to the Book Depository website. I recommend each of them wholeheartedly – they are brilliantly written with fantastic plots and characters, and most importantly they are enjoyable to read! If you like Oryx and Crake I’ll be writing a bit more on ‘end of the world’ fiction soon.

The Cat’s Table – Michael Ondaatje

Hi everyone. Today I’m writing about The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. This is his most recent novel (published 2011) and I approached it with some trepidation, as I read The English Patient a few years ago and really didn’t get on with it. I found The English Patient very dense, language-wise, and the characters seemed nothing like their movie counterparts. There was also too much talk of winds and sands! The only reason I read the book is that I was hoping it would be even better than the film, but it turned out to be one of those rare cases where I much preferred the movie (another one is Stardust – Neil Gaiman’s original novel just doesn’t seem as magical!). The Cat’s Table, on the other hand, was very approachable and I enjoyed reading it from start to finish!

The Cat's Table

The Cat’s Table, on appropriately festive red tinsel

When I first picked up the book I wasn’t sure if it would be worth its retail price (though I borrowed my copy from the library) as the font seemed rather large and the text spaced out – I wasn’t confident there would be much of a story within the pages, but I was very wrong! The novel is packed full of fascinating imagery and a myriad of characters, and there are so many stories within stories I feel like could begin the novel again and have a whole different experience.

The novel is set on a ship, the Oronsay, in the 1950s, and follows the story of a young boy (Michael, or Mynah, as he’s nicknamed) as he makes the three-week journey from Colombo in Sri Lanka to London, to meet his mother there. He is largely unchaperoned for the entire trip and gets up to plenty of mischief with his two new friends Cassius and Ramadhin. They sneak around the decks at night, steal food, hide in lifeboats, rope themselves outside during a terrible storm, climb down into the engine rooms, discover a garden full of exotic and poisonous plants (one of my favourite images), and spy on a chained prisoner who is allowed some exercise on deck at night. Along the way they meet an entire cast of eclectic and fascinating characters, (many of whom sit with them at ‘the cat’s table’, the furthest from the captain’s, for dinner) and though we only have snippets of each of their stories, it’s enough to provoke entire imagined worlds that transport the novel far away from the simple setting of a ship on the ocean.

Ondaatje’s narrative style is masterful, moving easily from the tone of a carefree and curious boy to that of Michael’s much older self, reminiscing about more recent events. The author brilliantly conveys the childlike wonder of a ship full of things to explore, giving the boys’ time aboard a sort of dreamlike quality, as though the ship is fluid and constantly changing, with no boundaries. It feels as though they have been on board for years and grown up there, which in many senses they have as they are changed by their many experiences and acquaintances.

One of my favourite moments in the book is the description of the ship pulling into the Suez Canal at night, and the section that follows, which describes Cassius’s later paintings of the same night, with “the exact angle of vision Cassius and I had … from the railing, looking down at the men working in those pods of light. An angle of forty-five degrees, something like that” (p143)*. It’s a nice mise en abîme image that links the past and present and reveals the importance of the boys’ experiences on the ship in shaping their adult lives.

I think it takes a lot of skill to create so much life and imagery in relatively few words (some authors don’t manage it in a whole novel!), and I was left with the feeling (probably much like Michael) that there’s more to discover from studying the nuances of each character, incident and story. I think it’s generally a sign of a good novel if you feel you can read it again and peel back more layers each time.

I do like ships, and if you like novels set on ships you might also enjoy East of the Sun by Julia Gregson, which follows the lives of three young women as they travel to India in the late 1920s.

* Ondaatje, Michael (2011) The Cat’s Table, London: Jonathan Cape. If you like the sound of it, you can buy a copy from The Book Depository here (paperback version).

Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

This week I thought I’d post about something a little more lighthearted as my most recent read was Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 novel Decline and Fall. It sounds like a rather serious title, but in fact the novel, Waugh’s first, is a satire. It tells the story of Paul Pennyfeather, an undergraduate who is expelled from his college at Oxford University for running around with no trousers on (after being unwittingly caught up with the raucous Bollinger Club). He is then forced to take a job as a teacher at a school in Wales, where all sorts of mischief happens. Paul has very little idea of what to teach or how to teach it, leading to some brilliant line such as:

“‘But what am I to teach them?’ said Paul in sudden panic. ‘Oh, I shouldn’t try to teach them anything, not just yet, anyway. Just keep them quiet.’” (p.36)*

and

“Meanwhile you will all write an essay on “Self-indulgence”. There will be a prize of half a crown for the longest essay, irrespective of any possible merit.” (p.38)

When a last-minute, bungled sports day is held at the school, Paul is introduced to Margot Beste-Chetwynde, the mother of Peter, one of the boys. Paul agrees to tutor Peter privately, staying with the family over the summer. He grows close to Margot and they agree to marry. On the morning of the ceremony Paul suddenly finds himself carted off to jail, taking the blame for Margot’s illegal trafficking of women to brothels in South America. Eventually he escapes when his friends organise his fake death, and ends up back where he started at Oxford, pretending to be his own distant cousin with the same name.

Although Paul Pennyfeather is the protagonist, he remains rather passive throughout the novel. Things seem to happen TO him – he doesn’t make them happen – and he accepts these events unquestioningly. The novel contains a host of other fascinating characters, including Philbrick, a butler at the school who gives everyone a different account of his life (he has apparently variously been a shipowner, novelist and burglar).

While I liked many aspects of the book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked to! I didn’t really care about the characters, and there was nothing in the plot that compelled me to read on. As a social satire it is witty, well written and a fascinating caricature of society at the time, but I still would have liked a bit more depth and substance to it. I think I’ll try Brideshead Revisited next, which is an entirely serious novel, and see how I get on with that!

* Page numbers refer to the 2003 edition of Decline and Fall published by Penguin Books, London. Click here to buy a copy from The Book Depository online and they will give me shiny pennies.

The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht was the second novel we read for our lovely Wednesday book group. I chose the novel this time, and I picked The Tiger’s Wife because I liked the opening few pages I read on lovereading.co.uk. The site is really cool as it allows you to download the opening chapter of many new novels so you can get a flavour of the book before you buy it (a bit like Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature). The site also has a synopsis, reviews and lots of different purchase options for each book. Very cool.

The Tiger's Wife

In the opening few pages of The Tiger’s Wife I was drawn to the whimsical description of the 40 days of the soul after death – it had a folksy, magical feel to it which continued throughout. The novel is set in the Balkans (it doesn’t get any more specific than that) and follows the story of a young doctor, Natalia, who is visiting orphanages after the war. She isn’t really the focus of the novel, however, as this storyline acts as more of a frame for the numerous mini stories about her grandfather, including his childhood (and the tale of the tiger’s wife), his numerous adventures with ‘the deathless man’ who is supposedly immortal, and a few of Natalia’s own memories of her grandfather.

The Tiger's Wife inside pages

I enjoyed many of the mini stories, but by the end I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of the novel as a whole. I enjoyed the language, the imagery, the characters, the changing scenes and the shifts in time, but it all seemed a little too disconnected to make one rounded whole. I had to force myself to keep reading in some places, but it’s the kind of book I think I could read again and discover much more the second time round. Obreht is a good writer, and I will certainly look out for her future novels.

Weddings, books, cake

Soooo, I haven’t posted anything in a while – almost a year in fact – which is very bad of me and I’m terribly sorry. I’ve been a busy gal. This year I’m not moving house or jobs (I’m a happy little publishing production editor kitty) and the wedding is out of the way, so now I am a happily married literature kitty yaaaaay and I will try and post more often. I’m also starting a new blog called StickerKitten, which my lovely husband is building for me. It will be all about stickers, and possibly other cute and crafty things.

That’s the ‘wedding’ bit of the post out the way, so what about books and cake? Surely cake is the most important thing here?? Well yes it is, which is why my super lovely colleagues and I have formed a book and cake group at work. Not just your ordinary bookgroup, this one has cake every meeting as well!

So far we’ve read a good mix of books, which I’ll get round to talking about eventually, but the first one we chose was Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch. The story centers around a boy called Jaffy who is rescued from an encounter with an escaped tiger by Charles Jamrach, who owns a menagerie in London. Jaffy goes to work for him and eventually undertakes a journey across the ocean in a whaling ship to try and capture a mythical ‘dragon’. The novel seems to be divided into three parts, covering Jaffy’s childhood in London, his adventures on board the ship, and his return home again. Despite all the exciting mythical elements most of us didn’t actually enjoy the book that much. The series of events seemed quite disjointed and we never really felt that we got to know any of the characters. Despite their experiences and ordeals, they were all very two-dimensional and we found ourselves not really caring what happened to them!

This meeting was accompanied by Cadbury’s flake cakes which went down very well.

Novels set in China

I haven’t posted anything for a while – apologies – and this is because I have started a new job, moved house and am trying to plan a wedding! In amongst all this I have managed to do a bit of reading, and at the moment I’m enjoying novels set in China, or by Chinese authors. My favourite so far is The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. It spans three generations of characters from China to America and is full of exciting things like dragon bones, ink shops, ghosts, curses, family feuds, war and love, and also focuses on the relationship between mother and daughter – a recurring theme in Tan’s novels.

After this I read The Joy Luck Club, also by Amy Tan, which has a similar feel to it but is structured as a series of eight mini stories told from the point of view of four mothers and daughters. Similarly the focus was on the gulf between the mothers’ previous experiences in China and their daughters’ current lives in America. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as it really seemed too brief to get to know the characters properly, and I had to keep looking back to check who was related to whom!

Another novel that I read quite a few months ago but has stuck in my mind is The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley. This is actually based on the true story of Yoshiko Kawashima, a Chinese princess turned Japanese spy. All very exciting! I think I loved this book so much because it travelled to so many different places and evoked them so vividly, from the freezing winters in Mongolia to the intoxicating nightlife of Shanghai. The protagonist was strong and vivacious and the novel wasn’t afraid of sex.

I seem to enjoy novels more if they are set in the past and/or in non-Western countries because they offer something completely different – insights into other cultures and traditions – and are often accompanied by a sense of nostalgia or romance that isn’t present when a setting is so familiar.

Finally, if you’d like to buy any of the books I’ve mentioned please visit the Book Depository’s website via the link on the right!

Popular Science: Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

I’ve taken a recent interest in popular science books. You know you get to that point in your life where you feel the need to know more about the universe, particle physics and quantum mechanics? … Well, maybe it’s just me then. Either way, I have three excellent titles by two excellent authors to recommend.

The first is the classic A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes* by the inimitable Stephen Hawking. The book was first published in 1988, and since then has sold over 10 million copies. Hawking addresses fundamental questions such as: Where did the universe come from? How did it begin? Will it end, and how? He discusses the nature of time and our perception of it, the way the forces all around us work – gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and weak force, special and general relativity, how black holes are formed and why they exist, the way particles behave and the laws they must obey, and what happens when and if these break down. They are deep and complex areas of physics that represent hundreds of years of research, and it is Hawking’s aim to bring this to the general audience. It is by no means any easy read – you wouldn’t take it to the beach with you (as I did in fact contemplate last weekend) – but Hawking skips the complex mathematics and lengthy equations and brings to light a truly fascinating subject. Hawking also makes it clear that our understanding of the universe is by no means complete, and we have yet to find a unified theory that explains everything on both a very, very small and a very, very large scale, and his continued wonder at the complexity of the universe comes through on every page. If you only give one popular science book a try, make it this one!

The second title that I would recommend is The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, published quite recently in 2010. Hawking and Mlodinow address many of the aspects of time, space and the universe that appear in A Brief History of Time, but also cover the newer ‘M-theory’ and the possibility of multiple universes. I actually found this book more accessible – easier to read and understand than Brief History, and also very enjoyable.

The final book is The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. Here the focus is on randomness and probability, and how our minds have difficulty in making sense of these concepts. The focus is very much on human experience and the logic and psychology of certain situations interspersed with a bit of history on key mathematicians and their theories. The book is lighthearted in tone and filled with fascinating stories and examples and puzzles that you can try to figure out before they are explained.

*note: book titles in this post link to the Book Depository website where you can buy copies of the books I mention, which I encourage you to do, because they give me shiny pennies. ^_^ You can also click the banner on the right.

American Psycho: Violence, Morality and Mundanity

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is a truly horrific novel. It’s not only the scenes of terrible violence, mutilation and murder that make it so, but the entire construct of the society the characters live in. A disturbing satire of 1980s American ‘yuppie’ culture, American Psycho stays with you in a way that most novels never manage.

Though the violent scenes take up only approximately 20 pages of the book, the novel is filled with occurrences and descriptions that unnerve the reader but that represent the norm for the protagonist Patrick Bateman. As each character is introduced they are described not by their physical attributes but by the designer clothes they are wearing. This extensive list of shirts, suits, shoes, ties and dresses occurs every time a character is described – they have little or no other aspect to their personalities. This is further reinforced by the way in which characters are constantly misnamed, mistaken for someone else and introduced to others under the wrong name. This happens so often that it has become normal, and Bateman frequently carries on conversations and even sets up meetings and dinner reservations as someone else.

The characters’ lives revolve around nothing more than eating obscure dishes in expensive restaurants, working out at the gym and comparing business cards. It is consumerist culture at its worst, its most distorted, and because of this, some darkly comic moments often arise. The characters are constantly misunderstanding each other or simply not listening. A classic example is when Bateman tells a girl he has just met: “I’m into, oh, murders and executions mostly”, and she mishears this as “mergers and acquisitions”. “That’s not what I said”, he replies, but she has moved on to another topic. Each character exists in their own self-obsessed world with a ‘personality’ formed entirely from branded goods and a lavish lifestyle.

This allows Bateman to operate in a world where his wealth and his perceived social status allow him to do whatever he wants. He is a hateful character – racist, homophobic, misogynistic – and he tortures and murders men, women, children and animals. Surely, you’re thinking, SOMEONE will have noticed SOMETHING, but that’s just the point, as Andrew Miles Jacobsen summaries succinctly in his essay: “The reader wants to find someone in the book that says, ‘This is terrible!’ but there is no one.”

There are instances where we think Bateman may have been discovered, such as when a McDonald’s worker notices his blood-spattered jacket, or when a cab driver recognises him as the man that murdered his colleague, but the McDonald’s worker is distracted by the queue and carries on serving, and the cab driver simply robs Bateman, taking his cash and sunglasses, and leaves. Even the laundrette workers that clean his bloodstained sheets don’t ask questions.

There is one significant incident in the novel where we think Bateman may finally be caught and punished for his crimes: he shoots a beggar in the street, not realising that there is a police car close by, and as they chase him, he steals a cab and shoots the driver, crashes the car (toppling a market stall and knocking down bystanders), has a shoot out with the police, runs into the wrong building and shoots a doorman and guard, and finally escapes into his own building where he hides until morning. This scene stands out in that it jumps from the first person perpective, in which the rest of the novel is written, to the third person. Bateman is suddenly outside the situation, narrating the action as though it were a movie.

Far from offering an outside perspective, this sudden switch draws us deeper into the tangled workings of Bateman’s brain. The over-the-top action and movie-style shootout make us question the reality of Bateman’s actions and experiences, especially when towards the end of the novel he describes an ATM that instructs him to “Kill the President” or “Feed Me a Stray Cat”, and the park bench that follows him for six blocks.

The unreliability of Bateman’s narration, coupled with the fact that no one seems to notice his murders, lead us to question whether they did in fact take place. Paul Owen, who Bateman murders halfway through the novel, apparently turns up in London, seen by several people – but this could again be a case of mistaken identity. Bateman also leaves the bodies of two prostitutes in Owen’s apartment, and then later discovers that the property is on the market, clean and smelling of flowers, with no report of the murders.

Despite this deliberate ambiguity, I don’t think we, as readers, should attempt to take solace in the fact that the murders may not have happened, as this misses the point of the novel. There is no hope or happy ending, and there are no likeable characters or chance of redemption for them. As Jacobsen puts it: “[the novel] has no redeeming qualities. Ellis doesn’t provide socially redeeming qualities. There is nothing nice in the book. Nothing about any of the characters, nothing about anything — there is no plot; characters are not developed. You could take the things that the people in the book say, and switch them around with other characters, and it wouldn’t change anything, at least as far as character development goes. Patrick Bateman literally has no personality. He’s totally blank.” This is why, at the end of the novel, Bateman is exactly the same as he was at the beginning. Despite his horrific actions and behaviour, mental deterioration and repeated confessions, he is still the same person, or non-person. There is no personal development or breakthrough; it is only the reader that has changed.

The way I see it, the reader is carrying the burden of guilt throughout the novel. Ellis does not provide us with a scapegoat – another character or omniscient narrative voice that condemns Bateman’s actions – instead we are left to squirm our way through the horrifically detailed scenes of torture, feeling the guilt in having read them that Bateman does not feel in acting them out.

This, I think, is why the novel is so haunting. Some of the most violent scenes are followed by a mundane chapter describing songs and albums in detail (by artists such as Whitney Houston or Genesis), which Ellis appears to have included simply to allow the reader’s mind to brood on the events that have just happened, in stark contrast to Bateman’s lack of concern. The descriptions are almost meaningless and read like advertisements, simply background music, interrupted sharply by the reader’s re-surfacing memories of the violence in the previous chapter.

For example, the first scene of torture the reader is exposed to (Bateman attacking a tramp) is followed straight afterwards by a chapter on Genesis. The reader’s memories of the violence are sparked subtly, to begin with, by song titles such as ‘Who Dunnit?’, ‘No Reply At All’ and ‘Man on the Corner’, and Ellis toys with this as Bateman notes “‘Man on the Corner’ profoundly equates a relationship with a solitary figure (a bum, perhaps a poor homeless person?)”. By mentioning the bum, Ellis acknowledges the fact that the violence is resonating in the reader’s mind, and allows Bateman to mock this by the casualness of his tone and the use of brackets to indicate the insignificance of the event.

Far from being boring chapters to be skimmed over, these mundane descriptive passages are often the most psychologically insightful. For example, when Bateman mentions the song ‘Mama’: “I couldn’t tell if the singer was talking about his actual mother or to a girl he likes to call ‘Mama’”, and ‘Just a Job to Do’: “though it seems to be about a detective chasing a criminal, I think it could also be about a jealous lover tracking someone down.” Though these could be valid interpretations from anyone else’s point of view, coming from Bateman they seem to present his slightly warped view of what is acceptable in society.

Another interesting point to note is Bateman’s criticism of stream-of-consciousness lyrics, when his whole life unfolds in a stream-of-consciousness manner. The things he says and does are unacceptable, based on impulse and desire with no thought of the consequences, yet his head is filled with rules on social etiquette, dress code and convention. As a human being, he is inside out, but part of what makes the novel so interesting is that we are never quite sure what is inside and what is out.