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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


African Psycho

Alain Mabanckou

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To purchase African Psycho

Title: African Psycho
Author: Alain Mabanckou
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 145 pages
Original in: French
Availability: African Psycho - US
African Psycho - UK
African Psycho - Canada
African Psycho - Canada (French)
African Psycho - India
African Psycho - France
African psycho - Italia
  • French title: African Psycho
  • Translated by Christine Schwartz Hartley

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Our Assessment:

B- : obsessive tale that doesn't adequately explore what drives the protagonist

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 6/10/2010 Jacqueline Dutton
New Humanist F 1-2/2008 Natalie Haynes
New Statesman . 21/6/2007 Sukhdev Sandhu
The New Yorker . 27/8/2007 .
World Lit. Today . 9-12/2004 Marco D. Roman

  From the Reviews:
  • "However random they may seem, Mabanckou's rhythmic and lyrical lines draw us into his characters and communities at a tempo that mirrors the speed of speech. And the fact it has been so well rendered into English bodes well for future translations of his work." - Jacqueline Dutton, The Australian

  • "Perhaps the real problem with this book is that it feels so old. Hearing the thoughts of a male narrator who hates and fears women, views them, irrespective of their profession, as prostitutes, and fantasises about killing them has surely had its grimy moment in literature. (...) This book promises a darkly humorous tale, but it never really delivers." - Natalie Haynes, New Humanist

  • "A beast and an idiot, he is also a satiric visionary: amid all his crazed outpourings, he is able to lampoon the pomposity of local lawyers, professors, media personalities and government officials. While Mabanckou has clearly read Jean Genetís The Thiefís Journal, and his prose owes a debt to Michel Houellebecq, this is a distinctive contribution to the slum-fiction genre. " - Sukhdev Sandhu, New Statesman

  • "(D)isturbing -- and disturbingly funny (.....) Although the title invokes American Psycho, the book owes more to Dostoyevsky and Camus " - The New Yorker

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

        The narrator of African Psycho, Grégoire Nakobomayo, is the 'African psycho' of the title, a would-be homicidal maniac cum serial killer who never quite lives up to his very grand ambitions. His idol is Angoualima, "the most famous of our country's assassins", and he would like to follow in his footsteps. And the novel begins promisingly enough, Grégoire announcing: "I have decided to kill Germaine on December 29."
       The novel eventually circles back to this plan, but first Grégoire relates how he came to this point. A major motive is obviously that he craves attention and public recognition: the worst thing that he can imagine happening after he commits the gruesome deed is not that he gets caught or has second thoughts, but: "that it goes unnoticed". When he commits his practise-crimes he looks for validation in the media, hoping for long stories describing his horrific deeds (and is disappointed when he finds they don't rate much of a mention).
       He venerates Angoualima, and obviously one of the things that impresses him so is the legend around the killer, the image of the ruthless man with the extra fingers in the public eye. Arguably Grégoire's finest moment comes when he impersonates his idol on a radio call-in show -- which also gives him a taste of what it is like to inhabit such a feared persona.
        Grégoire is modestly successful. He has a house which he built (with some help) with his own two hands, he has a workshop and apparently something of a career. He has something of an education, too, as he lived for a while with a well-off, caring family with whom he was placed after apparently being abandoned by his own parents. He fled from them, however, when he was eleven and in protecting himself from their older son inflicted serious injury to the boy.
        Grégoire is apparently very unattractive, which might explain some of his problems. He also makes clear:

I love vulgarity. I claim it loud and clear. I love it because only it says what we are, without the hideous masks we wear by nature, which turn us into mean beings, hypocrites, ceaselessly running after decency, a quality I couldn't care less about.
       Despite that claim, Grégoire misrepresents himself several times (specifically in his attempts to commit a crime -- rob a notary, rape and kill a woman) and while it's not decency he's running after, he is completely unconvincing as someone who is true only to himself. The mask he wears when he calls the radio-programme, claiming to be Angoualima, may be one he considers glorious, but it is also a lie, a refusal to show one's true face. It is this hypocrisy -- that while the ends he's after might be different, he adopts the same lying means of those he condemns -- that makes him almost entirely unsympathetic.
       He describes himself yelling: "'Oh, shit !' nonstop", because:
This swear word calms me down, gives me the illusion that I am master of each situation, and allows me to reconnect with my vulgarity, which makes me feel almost comfortable.
       Even the constant repetition can't make him feel comfortable in his own skin, and his half-assed attempts to emulate Angoualima don't really get him anywhere either. It's no surprise that when he goes to Angoualima's grave he hears a voice that castigates him; he knows deep down that he is -- as he hears Angoualima tell him -- "nothing but a pathetic creature". Unfortunately, he continues to try to prove himself.
       The intended victim, Germaine, changed his life; for a while it seems there's some hope for redemption -- but Grégoire doesn't even want to entertain the thought, focussing instead on his outlandish ambitions to kill. He is again denied the hoped-for outcome (in a twist that's a bit far-fetched) -- though here, finally, he sees some sort of light.
       African Psycho is, ultimately, a moral tale, and stripped down to its outlines one which can hardly seem objectionable: yes, Grégoire does some bad things, but the most gruesome (the attack on the older boy when he was eleven) is more or less justifiable, and the others aren't nearly as awful as he had planned. And, in the end, even if he does not want to see the light, he is pretty much set on the straight and narrow. But Mabanckou certainly has a strange way of presenting all this, and in never convincingly explaining the foundations of Grégoire's obsession and in making him such an unsympathetic character the story is a particularly unpleasant one.
       Mabanckou wants it too many ways. Parts of the book work, but too much is at odds with itself, and Grégoire is not convincing enough as this character, making for a frustrating read.

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African Psycho: Reviews: Alain Mabanckou: Other books by Alain Mabanckou under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Alain Mabanckou is from Congo-Brazzaville. He was born in 1966 and currently teaches in the US.

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