Books like American Psycho get a bad reputation for their controversial subject matter and depictions of violence, but there is a lot more to them than just the blood and savagery that they have become so infamously renowned for.
Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho rejects the common expectation that serial killers are sad, sullen losers when he created his novel’s protagonist; the wealthy, successful and educated Patrick Bateman. In doing so he cleverly draws comparisons between the typical, power-hungry and tunnel-visioned American striving for ‘The Dream’ with mental health issues and holds a stark light up to our culture of excess.
As readers, we get sucked into Bateman’s manipulative world and watch as his life along with his murderous tendencies spiral out of control until he snaps and confesses. Yet whose going to believe that someone like Bateman would be capable of such atrocities?
With books like American Psycho, it can be hard to separate the reactions attached to them, getting lost in the horror and gore. Once you do you realise the other themes tackled in the narrative which at times can be even more horrifying than some of the acts of violence.
9 Books like American Psycho
Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk
We couldn’t put together a list of books like American Psycho without Chuck Palahniuk making an appearance at least once. His novel Haunted kicks us off which not only covers themes which feature a lot in Palahniuk’s other works like social distastefulness, existentialism and sexuality, he also highlights the battle for artistic credibility in our age of social media all while satirises the banalities of reality tv.
Haunted is comprised of 23 short stories which all link into the overarching narrative, they are told by people who answered an ad promoting a secret artists retreat where attendees could abandon the distractions of life and focus on their work. The seventeen participants are taken to an abandoned theatre where they’ll have three months to work on their magnum opus with no interaction with the outside world and are consequently locked inside.
What follows is a series of destructive acts; self-sabotage, mutilation, cannibalism and torture as each character becomes intent on staging a better story out of their current circumstances by putting their lives in danger. Their stories are horrifying, amusing, sickening and overwhelming Haunted takes readers on one hell of a ride, one few will forget.
Are you a fan of Chuch Palahniuk? Make sure to check out our list of books like Fight Club!
The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
Having had many of his science-fiction manuscripts rejected, Iain Banks decided to write a more ‘mainstream’ novel which resulted in his debut The Wasp Factory getting published in 1984. Though not science-fiction, Banks still approached the novel as such by entering the mind of a psychopathic sixteen-year-old boy which gives readers this almost alien outlook on reality.
Frank Cauldhame lives with his eccentric father Angus on a remote Scottish Island, his mother abandoned them years ago and his brother is in a mental asylum. Following a freak childhood accident, Frank resorted to violence and strange, ritualistic tendencies as an outlet for his frustrations. When his brother escapes and returns home, some shocking secrets surrounding Frank’s past and their father are revealed which will ultimately change Frank forever.
Readers of books similar to American Psycho are sure to enjoy dissecting The Wasp Factory too as though the novel involves scenes of graphic violence, particularly towards animals, it also explores abuse of power.
Frank’s father is symbolic of a totalitarian authority and Banks highlights how anyone, if left unchecked can easily create monsters and broken souls like Frank while also considering the question whether immense prior suffering justifies villainy?
Psycho, by Robert Bloch
Now a series of books and source of inspiration for the famed Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, it is easy to see why Psycho is considered one of the most influential horror books of the 20th Century and the author Robert Bloch’s most enduring works.
The novel centres around the isolated Bates Motel run by the rather unassuming caretaker Norman and his domineering mother. Business is waning since the relocation of the highway, so when the exhausted Mary Crane arrives she is welcomed in with open arms by Norman much to the annoyance of his mother.
When Mary is found decapitated, Norman suspects his mother and decides to dispose of the body and Mary’s car in order to protect her. But soon friends of Mary come looking for her at the motel and begin piecing together the unexpected truth surrounding her disappearance and the twisted familial relationship between Norman and his mother.
Among many similar themes apparent in novels like American Psycho, Bloch explores the destruction of the American Dream, dualities of human nature, insanity and internal darkness in Psycho with many other startling surprises along the way.
Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby Jr
Despite being the subject of an obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and later banned in Italy due to its shocking portrayal of gang rape, drug use, homosexuality and violence, Hubert Selby Jr’s novel Last Exit to Brooklyn has been praised by critics and fellow writers.
The novel is divided into six parts, which can be read separately and in any order. The sections are each prefaced with a passage from the Bible and follow the lives and escapades of different lower class Brooklynites during the 1950s, including that of a transgender hooker, a prostitute and a closeted gay man.
Hubert Selby Jr expertly examines society through his characters, delving deep into their internal anxieties and rebellions against the gendered pressures and stereotypes placed on them. We see men rebelling against being this ideal man, women rebelling against typical feminine roles, giving in to these feelings in one moment while repressing them in the next.
These artful portrayals make Last Exit to Brooklyn such a thrilling read and a worthy addition to this list of books similar to American Psycho.
The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson was one of the first novelists to delve deep into the mind of the American serial killer in his 1952 novel The Killer Inside Me. It is also the first novel on this list of books like American Psycho whose murderous protagonist is in a position of power within the police force, highlighting corruption as a theme similar to the abuse of power presented by Banks in The Wasp Factory.
Meet small-town deputy sheriff Lou Ford, known for being the nicest guy around. He may not be particularly interesting or clever but he’s harmless, just a normal guy that you wouldn’t mind welcoming into your family. Or is he? Beneath this visage lurks a sadistic monster who already has plenty of murders under his belt.
We follow his barbarous trail as he tries to avenge his brother’s death and absolve himself from some guilt completely un-phased if innocent people have to die in the process. In The Killer Inside Me, Thompson created one of the greatest crime novels of all time and has surely been an inspiration for some of the authors on this list.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey depicts the ongoing battles between sanity and insanity, social pressure and shame, emasculation and sexuality, institutional control and human dignity in his gripping novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
On her ward in an Oregon State mental facility, the domineering and tyrannical Nurse Ratched runs a tight ship. Her patients are either too subdued by mind-numbing medications or too scared by the threat of electric shock therapy to oppose her, that is until Randall Patrick McMurphy arrives and shakes up her regime.
Told through the troubled mind of one of the patients, ‘Chief’ Bromden the story unfolds as he recollects the events leading up to his escape, events which include a riot against Ratched and McMurphy’s tragic punishment for rebelling against the oppressive powers keeping them imprisoned.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a truly extraordinary novel portraying the very thin and precarious line between sanity and madness and why readers of books similar to American Psycho will thoroughly enjoy reading it.
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy expertly dethrones the typical conventions surrounding the ‘wild west novel’ in his epic Blood Meridian. Based on historical events which took place during the 1850s along the Mexican border, the novel centres around a teenager referred to simply as ‘the kid’ who falls into the hellish world of the Glanton gang.
The Glanton gang are scalp hunters who violently massacre Native Americans for bounty and sadistic fun, ruled by the physically massive, multi-talented and exceptionally intelligent Judge Holden who often speaks of war as an inevitability. We follow the kid and his struggle to survive within the gang while attempting to leave their violent, bloody world behind.
If you like Brett Eastern Ellis’ dismembering of the American Dream in American Psycho then you are sure to be captivated by Blood Meridian too. McCarthy scrutinises the warlike nature of man and the pointless justifications given by governments for the mindless violence involved in going to war with Judge Holden used to reflect this.
Already read this book? Check out our list for more books like Blood Meridian!
The Cement Garden, by Ian McEwan
The inspiration behind a major motion picture starring Sinead Cusack and Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan is a thrillingly bleak story which sifts through a theme common in a lot of his work; morality and the human condition, what we choose to do versus what we know we should do.
In the case of the four children in the novel whose parents die in quite quick succession the decisions they make to stay together and out of foster care are unexpected, to say the least. Reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of The Flies, once the children are left alone without adult supervision things soon start to deteriorate as they descend into chaos, boundaries are crossed, secrets are made and even darker ones are exposed.
McEwan takes readers on a psychological rollercoaster in The Cement Garden, one I am sure readers looking for novels like American Psycho will enjoy. He has a unique ability to write about some taboo and complex Freudian theories with warmth and tenderness which is what makes McEwan such an enduring author.
Filth, by Irvine Welsh
For the same reason we couldn’t compile a list of books like American Psycho without Chuck Palahniuk, nor could we without featuring a book by Irvine Welsh, either. All three authors push boundaries with their work, are unashamed in their portrayals of violence while quite literally dismembering bigger subjects in masterfully subversive plots.
Filth follows another unsuspecting officer of the law, Bruce Roberson detective sergeant of Edinburgh’s Lothian Constabulary. Told through Bruce’s perspective in first-person stream of consciousness style, the novel opens with a brutal murder case he is assigned.
As the plot unfolds the reader goes on a turbulent journey, piecing together a more accurate picture of Bruce; his drug and alcohol addictions, abusive sexual exploits, his mental state and the heinous jokes he plays on his coworkers.
Welsh weaves an experimental, clever and deceiving narrative which even involves insight from a tapeworm growing inside Bruce’s intestines and eventually goes full circle revealing the shocking truth behind the opening murder. Filth is a tormenting but fascinating read which accentuates some of the problems faced by the Scottish working class, a subject common in a lot of Welsh’s other work.
There are some unsettling reads on this list of books like American Psycho which certainly aren’t for the fainthearted, however, the authors have also tackled some complex themes like social pressures, abuse of power, psychology, mental health, class differences and warfare to name a few.
Therefore they should not be avoided due to the reactions they are initially tarred with but applauded for their courage, skill and incomparable imaginations.
Are you looking for more books like American Psycho? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!