Favourite 4: Books of Excess

Nothing quite beats a novel full of indulgence, parties and drama; if it’s done well. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is in many ways the epitome of excess, and is one of the first novels that springs to mind when you think of glitz and glamour. So if you loved the 1920’s extravagance of Jay Gatsby’s suave soirées, then you’re bound to love these too…

goodbye to berlin

What Gatsby did for New York, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies did the same for London, as an excessive romp filled with the similar tales of drunken parties, car races and intrigue. It was adapted by Stephen Fry for screen as Bright Young Things and embodies the image of wild and frivolous youth. Set slightly later than Gatsby, the threat of war lies just around the corner, which gives the novel the uncanny tone that it’s all about to come crashing down. With a protagonist as passive and deadpan to rival any to come from the mind of Fitzgerald, Vile Bodies is everything you could wish for from a classic British black comedy.

Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin is set in a similar moment, just before the advent of war. Instead of waiting it out, Isherwood flings himself and the reader into pre-war Berlin, to be a part of the last hoorah as Hitler slowly takes over. As the inspiration behind the hit musical Cabaret, the tales of excess and sexual debauchery have entertained people all over the world. The contrast between the hedonistic lifestyle on one hand, and the incoming tyranny beating down their doors on the other, makes for a truly tragic tale.


When thinking of stories of debauchery and misdeed, it would be a farce to neglect the only novel published by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. When artist Basil Hallward becomes infatuated with a handsome and young Dorian Gray, he proceeds to paint his portrait. Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton projects a world view where beauty takes precedence over all else, and Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul in order to ensure his portrait ages instead of himself. A life of immorality, sin and mischief proceeds, with only the painting to remind him of the damage he is doing to his tattered soul. The novel was seen as thoroughly indecent and was met with outrage, resulting in heavy censorship and editing. If that’s not a novel of excessive narcissism, vanity, extravagance and sin, then I don’t know what is.

Now, for something a little less glamorous and a bit (or much) more troubling. Our final pick of a novel of excess is Bret Easton Ellis’ bleak, bitter and frankly disturbing American Psycho. The protagonist is Patrick Bateman, a handsome, intelligent young man and the personification of the American dream. Dripping in designer suits and dining at New York’s finest restaurants, Bateman is living a highly enviable life of luxury on the outside, but a gruesome life of psychotic, cold-blooded murder behind closed doors. American Psycho is a painfully controlled depiction of life on Wall Street from the mind of a psychopath, and truly shows you that a life of excess does not necessarily equate to a life of happiness at all.