REVIEW: ‘African Psycho’ by Alain Mabanckou

 

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To kill – a verb I have worshipped since coming of age. Fundamentally, all the small jobs I carried out were done in the hope of later being able to conjugate this verb in its most immediate and fully realized form. 

TW: Rape, Misogyny and Violence

I love a good cover and I’ll admit that a good cover is enough to make me read a book and a bad cover is enough to steer me away from a book no matter how critically acclaimed it is. I came across African Psycho at Africa Writes, an African literature festival, where Mabanckou was scheduled to speak. I had heard about Mabanckou but was always distracted by other books so I thought it was only appropriate to buy one of his novels while at the festival. I decided to buy African Psycho because of the beautiful cover and familiar title. My friend had recommended American Psycho but because I’ve focused my reading on people of colour, I was in a bind.

From what I’ve heard about American Psycho I’ve gathered that it’s about a young, wealthy investment banker cum murderer. Throughout the novel, his murders become progressively more complex and gruesome and by the end of the novel, the reader isn’t sure whether these murders are delusions or real. Mabanckou takes this idea and flips it on its head. Mabanckou’s psycho, Grégoire Nakobomayo, is a poor mechanic who doesn’t give a fuck about the way he looks openly admitting that he’s ugly. He does not actually commit a murder due to his obsessive planning even though, all he wants is to live up to his idol, Angoualima a famous serial killer.

Plot aside, I love Mabanckou’s style in this novel. He doesn’t waste words with unnecessary descriptions and doesn’t try to humanise Grégoire. He is to the point and from the first sentence, the reader is drawn into the mind of a psychopath. Grégoire is calculating, cold and worst of all, he knows how to fit into society so much so that not only does he have a girlfriend, she is unaware that Grégoire plans for her to be his first victim. Germaine, a sex worker and Grégoire’s girlfriend, is convinced that he loves her. He builds her trust and tells her that sex workers are an integral part of society however, the reader is aware of his hatred towards sex workers and his plan to disembowel Germaine. When Mabanckou does decide to describe scenes, people and Grégoire’s state of mind, he does so with a sense of humour. In describing Grégoire’s childhood, Mabanckou writes, ‘There are uncertainties I would like to address right away: my eclectic upbringing in the host families and the education I received in the street forged in me a disposition that bears the resemblance to mayonnaise gone bad’. Another example of his humour is in the name of neighbourhoods – Grégoire lives in He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot, the name alluding to the fact that most of the population are alcoholics. Even though Mabanckou’s writing abilities shine in these instances, I do think at times he is self-indulgent and allows Grégoire’s thoughts to descend into rambling. On one hand, I understand that part of Grégoire’s character is his incessant internal chatter but on the other hand, the reading experience fell a bit flat when this went on for too long.

For me, one of the most troubling aspects of Grégoire’s mind is his blatant hatred for women. He was abandoned at birth by his mother and tells the reader that one of his fantasies is to pull out his mother’s heart, cook it and eat it with sweet potatoes while the rest of her body rots in front of him. His hatred towards his mother is projected on to other women. He is also obsessed with vaginas and reduces women to their vaginas and the size of their bottoms. His idol, Angoualima, raped women and stuffed Cuban cigars in their vaginas, and while he wants to be original, he wants to live up to that level of violence. In reality, he finds himself unable to successfully carry out a murder. The first woman he killed, turned out to be a nurse and not a prostitute and when he tried to rape her, he was unable to become erect. I’ve included trigger warnings because while I do not want to reveal too many spoilers, I think it’s important for more sensitive readers to be aware of the violent content.

 Violence aside, I found myself really enjoying the novel. I took it for what it was and tried to put my respectabilities aside in order to allow myself delve deeper into Grégoire’s mind. I can honestly say that I’ve never read a novel by an African author like this before and I’m glad I allowed myself expand my knowledge of African literature. African Psycho is worth the time and labour it took to read it and I look forward to reading more from Mabanckou and expanding my knowledge of French African literature. African Psycho challenged what I have come to expect from ‘African literature’ and I found myself eagerly waiting for Grégoire’s first killing, morbid I know but he plans Germaine’s murder so meticulously, you find yourself looking forward to the outcome of his plans. I’m definitely going to read American Psycho once my embargo on white authors is lifted!

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