Thursday, August 16, 2007

African Psycho

With a hat tip to Sandra Ruttan, I introduce you to African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou. Mabanckou was born in the Congo Republic (Brazzaville) in 1966 and studied law in Brazzaville and Paris. (He did this to please his mother, according to his Web site.)

He began publishing poetry while working for the French water company Lyonnaise des Eaux, and he came to the United States in 2001 to teach francophone literature at the University of Michigan. These days he teaches French, francophone studies and comparative literature at UCLA in Los Angeles.

African Psycho's title reveals one of its influences: Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho. (African Psycho is not a translated title. The book is also called that in its original French.) A borrowing like that reflects a sly sense of humor, a quality on ample display in the novel's opening pages.

The narrator, Gregoire, has decided to kill his girlfriend to make his mark in the world and to act in the spirit of the Great Master of crime Angoualima, "the most famous of our country's assassins." The country is not named, though there are several references to "the country over there" across the river. The grimness of Gregoire's task is mitigated by a humorous fussiness of his narration, a narration that stretches back to his beginnings in the neighborhood of He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot, toward which he displays if not affection, then at least a certain resignation. He is a protagonist of interest, and I will report back with more news of him.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm curious to see what you think. It is a disturbing subject, the grimness of which is alleviated by some of those elements of humour. I think this is an example of where first person narrative makes all the difference... and made me feel the need to scrub out my brain at a few points.

August 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not normally attracted to get-inside-the-killer's-head stories unless the stories have a comic edge as in, say, Ken Bruen's Calibre. American Psycho has a different kind of comic edge, tragi-comic, perhaps, plus wonderful observations about life in Gregoire's unidentified country. By the time the novel gets to what it's building up to, Mabanckou will have given us what critics like to call a fully realized character, I think.

August 17, 2007  

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