Man vs. Society: Why Alain Mabanckou’s African Psycho is Impossible to Put Down by Camille Bernt


“I have decided to kill Germaine on December 29th” is the first line of Alain
Mabanckou’s African Psycho. This line alone brands the novel not only within the reader’s mind but also within literary history. The narrator’s confessional introduction not only draws the reader in, but also roots the novel alongside classics such as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Camus’ L’Etranger. What strings the protagonists of these novels together (besides the obvious fact that they are all told from a murderers’ perspective and most of us were required to read them in high school) is their contempt towards the hand life has dealt them and their refusal to turn the other cheek. Their visualization of the purpose of their existence is complete, a task that most of us are incapable of or unsure about, yet these characters survive on the very concept of the execution of an action which responds to their place within society, or lack thereof.

Despite their intentions, there is something to be envied of them, which is perhaps the reason why these books are so hard to put down. To be totally and ireffutably sound with the life fate has dealt you that your own self-doubt and personal consciousness does not interfere is a masterful task, and there lies the struggle of Mabanckou’s protagonist, Gregoire, thus allowing readers to empathize with this disturbing character.

Published in 2003 and translated from French, African Psycho is the chilling portrait
of a man’s struggle to spit back into the face of society after surviving a scarring childhood in foster homes. As an adult, Gregoire is disgusted with humanity and the corruption which surrounds him; his only reprieve being the late assassin, Angoualima, whose shocking crimes he vows to emulate. The story follows Gregoire’s culmination to the great crime that will place him alongside his idol, yet whether he is capable of executing his plan becomes an increasingly daunting question. The building suspense throughout the novel allows for a cathartic release at the end, therefore creating a haunting one-of-a-kind literary experience that creates just as much of an impact as the works of Camus or Dostoevsky.

Alain Mabanckou’s African Psycho is a masterful literary work on multiple levels. The novel’s provocative theme beautifully combines both masterful storytelling and
social psychology, resulting in the perfect example of how literature helps its readers
relate to the world that surrounds them.