Books Are Pretty

Saturday, August 18, 2007

African Psycho.

One of my favorite bits in the The Spy Who Shagged Me was Dr. Evil's creation of Starbucks to achieve world domination. Mike Myers got the idea from old superhero TV shows where the villain's side job, the day job that paid for his elaborate costumes and Evilmobiles was much more successful and effective than anything the villain could have achieved by dedicating himself to a life of crime alone.

So is the same with Grégoire Nakobomayo, a destitute, homeless orphan on the booze-heavy border town of Celui-Qui-Bôit-de-l'eau-Est-un-Idiot(He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot.) Managing to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to become a successful auto mechanic who owns both his own business and home in Africa's Congo-Brazzaville, Grégoire is obsessed with his own perceived failures and limitations. Like all B movie supervillains, however, he pursues a goal that he is certain will give him the greatest satisfaction: he will become Africa's greatest serial killer. As a true master criminal, he will at last have the attention he so desperately needed as a child, while simultaneously punishing society for its neglect.

The novel begins with Grégoire's stated desire to kill his girlfriend, Germaine. From the first sentence we fall into Grégoire's compelling stream-of-conscious monologue, reminiscent of the endless rants in the notebooks of Kevin Spacey's John Doe character in Se7en. Although the title is a riff of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, author Alain Mabanckou draws his protagonist as the polar opposite of the completely vapid 80's killer - his Grégoire does nothing but think.

While Ellis' Patrick Pateman was glib and successful, Grégoire is comically frustrated and ineffectual as a serial killer, or a criminal of any kind, really, drawing a brilliant parallel between the opulence of the United States to the struggles of those in the Congo. The obstacles Mabanckou places in front of Grégoire serve to wickedly poke fun at the social and political quirks of his home country, seamlessly blending humorous social satire with brutal suspense.

Most memorable is Mabanckou's mockery of the Congolese press, whose newspapers seem more reminiscent of The National Inquirer than The New York Times. A radio call-in show takes the form of what Mabanckou calls, "Et Alors? Croyez-moi!" (Well then? Trust me!) where the interviewer swallows whole the enormous whoppers spun by his interview subject regarding Grégoire's idol, the late Angoualima, Africa's most famous serial killer. Unable to bear it anymore, Grégoire calls the station to give the studio his version of Woody Allen's Marshall McLuen moment.

In between botched, would-be acts of depravity, Grégoire seeks refuge in the cemetery of The-Dead-Who-Are-Not-Allowed-To-Sleep, to confide in his idol Upheld to god-like status by Grégoire, Angoualima comes to life for Grégoire and berates him, confirming the loser status that dogs him.

While utterly psychotic, his relentless ranting monologues proclaiming his eagerness to mutilate and kill, to rid He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot of the riff-raff - the thieves, pimps, and prostitutes - it seems more like his insistence in his own evil is an endless sales pitch for something he himself is not quite buying.

As his plans to murder Germaine draw closer, Mabanckou weaves the comic elements with such excruciating suspense that the pages can't be turned quickly enough. Like Grégoire himself, when the day finally arrives and all the pieces start falling into place, the readers have no idea whether he'll go through with it or not.

African Psycho
by Alain Mabanckou
translated by Christine Schwartz Hartley
2007 by Soft Skull Press
Softcover, 145 pp.
ISBN: 1-933368-50-0

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