Things have always been tough for Grégoire Nakobomayo. The protagonist of Alain Mabanckou’s African Psycho was not only born with an ugly rectangular head, but was abandoned as an infant and spent the better part of his youth in orphanages and foster care. When his disturbed, older foster brother attempts to rape him, Greg stabs out his attacker’s eye and escapes to the slums of his unnamed, sprawling central African city. Thus Greg’s illustrious life of crime begins, or so he’d have you believe.
Despite spending the better part of his adolescence in the seedy, labyrinthine neighborhood called He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot (so named for the plentiful and colorfully named bars that dot the neighborhood), Grégoire takes on a trade, learning how to refurbish and repaint wrecked automobiles. He even saves enough cash to buy some land in the neighborhood and build himself a small house. Not too bad for a kid from the block who aspires, one day, to be as good a serial killer as the country’s most infamous slasher, Angoualima.
A slim book, African Psycho is Grégoire’s first-person account of how he is planning the murder (his first) of his girlfriend, Germaine. Though he’s committed various petty crimes and three serious assaults, he’s not lived up to the expectations he believes his idol and supernatural mentor, Angoualima, has for him. A frequent visitor to Angoualima’s grave (which is located in a federal graveyard for criminals, the aptly named cemetery of the Dead-Who-Are-Not-Allowed-To-Sleep), Grégoire’s story is the epitome of unreliable narration.
Much like Bret Easton Ellis’s Patrick Bateman, only one of two possible truths about this narrator can stand: that Grégoire is the blood-thirsty psychopath he claims to be, or that he’s a sad sack with some serious mommy issues. Either way, African Psycho is an inventive and often funny book that introduces Mabanckou’s engrossing prose to the American audience for the first time.