Review: African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou

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Synopsis:

Its title recalls Bret Easton Ellis’s infamous book, but while Ellis’s narrator was a blank slate, African Psycho’s protagonist is a quivering mass of lies, neuroses, and relentless internal chatter. Gregoire Nakobomayo, a petty criminal, has decided to kill his girlfriend Germaine. He’s planned the crime for some time, but still, the act of murder requires a bit of psychological and logistical preparation. Luckily, he has a mentor to call on, the far more accomplished serial killer Angoualima. The fact that Angoualima is dead doesn’t prevent Gregoire from holding lengthy conversations with him. Little by little, Gregoire interweaves Angoualima’s life and criminal exploits with his own. Continuing with the plan despite a string of botched attempts, Gregoire’s final shot at offing Germaine leads to an abrupt unraveling. Lauded in France for its fresh and witty style, African Psycho’s inventive use of language surprises and relieves the reader by injecting humor into this disturbing subject.

Review:

African Psycho is the first novel translated and published in English by Alain Mabanckou, and even though it has been out since 2007, this is a novel worth finding and reading. Gregorie wants to be a serial killer. He is kind of a loser, was abandoned by his parents, works a menial job, has no family, no romance, no real friends. All he has is the admiration for Angoualima, an active serial killer that is cutting the heads off of his victims and stuffing them with cigars for the police to find. Gregorie wants to be him, wants to make him proud. This causes him to think and think and overthink and eventually plan to kill Germaine, his whore girlfriend who was having trouble with some people so he is giving her a place to live. 

This is such a good novel, and there are really no predictable moments. The writing and translation are engaging and superb, and there are moments that Mabanckou uses some writing that could be gimmicky if it had lasted longer (like an interview he describes on TV using a “Well then…trust me” structure, and a six page, stream of conscious sentence), but they are not so much taxing that they are distracting. It makes the madness feel genuine and perfect.

It has been a long time since I have read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, but I know that this is not a comparable book. Where Patrick Bateman is disengaged and fully into the killing for sport, that his life is just the same as everyone else’s so he has to do something to feel, knowing he can get away with it. Gregorie is trying to get people to notice him, to make him a celebrity so that people will talk about him. He has felt marginalized his whole life, and killing is the way to get people to finally see him. The common theme is that they both feel invisible, but other than that, you are getting a completely different experience out of both of them. Both are good in different ways. Read them both.

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