Fight Club – I’ve seen the movie in 2000 and I’ve loved it eversince. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham-Carter at their best, a plot to twist your mind and imagination and quotes like “I am Jack’s cold sweat” or “The first rule of Fight Club is – you do not talk about Fight Club” or – and this is my favourite – “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world”. Since then, I’ve been meaning to read the book, or any other book by Chuck Palahniuk, and never got around to it…until now, with Haunted (umm, I really really hope they don’t make a movie out of this, they’ll lose the humour somewhere along the way and it’ll end up to be totally gruesome :-S ).
Quite the publicised work of fiction this is, especially due to the first story – Guts. Apparently, a bunch of people in the US fainted at public readings – so there you have it, the perfect marketing tool: shock. Thing is, only in America would this happen. It’s disgusting, it makes your skin curl (well, it made my skin curl, and it’s an actual, physical, feeling), but it’s not fainting material… 😀
That being said…this book is [and…here comes the stupid comparison you’ve all been waiting for 😉 ] like a cake – the layered kind: it’s got humor, social critique, irony, self mutilation, violence, trauma and a cat. Really, it’s got it all and, even if I didn’t find it to be a work of genius or anything like, it’s definitely not a read-and-forget kind of book.
A couple of particularities in the style of the novel: the format is something like story in a story – or in this particular case, 23 stories and 19 poems in free verse in a story; each chapter is formed of 3 parts: the continuous story of what happens in the theatre, a poem about one of the characters (author unknown) and a story written by that character; and each character (except the 2 that set up the “writer’s retreat” – Mr. Whittier and Mrs. Clark) is known by a nickname according to the story he tells: Saint Gut-Free, Mother Nature, Miss America, Lady Baglady, The Earl of Slender, The Duke of Vandals, Director Denial, Reverend Godless, The Matchmaker, Sister Vigilante, Chef Assassin, Comrade Snarky, Agent Tattletale, The Missing Link, The Countess of Foresight, The Baroness Frostbite and Miss Sneezy. The characters’ nicknames were some of my favourite parts, they’re every bit as funny and descriptive as they’re intended to be – including in translation (I read the book in translation actually and I just looked up the original names).
It all starts with a Mr. Whittier driving a group of 17 would-be writers to a writers’ retreat he organized and advertised through fliers he put up around the city. This retreat turns out to be an abandoned theatre, where each writer will have his own fully equipped room, plus stocks of food, central heating and other creature comforts – everything except the possibility to get in contact with the outside world. It all seems perfect – they will all be able to create the greatest work of their lives (in conditions somewhat similar to those in which Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born, as it is constantly mentioned throughout the book). Except that they find they cannot write, they need the disturbances of the outside world – they need any kind of disturbance – and they realise that that their collective story will sell so much better if it is presented as a story of imprisonment, unimaginable torture and torment. Thus begins the sabotaging of all appliances and the self mutilation (which will later on be pinned on Mr. Whittier and Mrs. Clark). While all this takes place, each one tells the story of their lives, of the things they’re running away from – in total 23 such stories (Mr. Whittier has 2 stories and Mrs. Clark 4) – whose intertwining will complete the “frame story”.
The most memorable of these stories were, to me: Guts (Saint Gut-Free’s story about how he lost his intestines in a masturbating accident), Ritual (The Matchmaker’s story of the family joke – which originated in a Nazi POW camp, where an officer accidentally cuts of his penis while cutting off the head of a woman whom he forced to give him a blowjob. The irony of things is that the Matchmaker himself will die after having his penis cut off in his attempt to win the sympathy of the public by enduring the most tortures. As a matter of fact, the book is filled with this kind of “the wheel turns” stories ), Slumming (rich Lady Baglady living on the streets to recapture the passion of the marriage – after all, “poor is the new trend” 😀 ), Crippled, Hot Potting and Mrs Clark’s 4 tales surrounding the disappearance of her daughter Cassandra. In fact every short story is interesting and twisted, and no matter how appalled you might get, there’s no way you can put it down. (In the book I’m reading now – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens– Crowley the devil says that man can think up pains and evils far beyond the ones found in hell, and Palahniuk’s book is, in the end, a parade of such things…)
“The synopsis on the dustjacket describes Haunted as a satire of reality television, but according to Palahniuk, the novel is actually about “the battle for credibility” that has resulted from the ease with which one can publish through the use of modern technology” (Go, wikipedia! 😉 ) As I was reading, I did happen to think about the Big Brother TV show at times actually, so I think that the satire of reality TV is a very handy observation. I was never a fan of Big Brother, but I was in highschool when the first serie was on, so I watched a bit, especially since everyone was discussing it and I didn’t want to be left behind 😀 . And (minus the self mutilation 😉 ) the theatre is much alike the house, and their constant search of the limelight – their life stories, their “torture”, the deaths and the so-called romance between Saint Gut-Free and Mother Nature – it all reads like a reality show turned cheap horror flick. And that’s the way it’s intended, I think.
The ending? That’s the best part – so no spoilers. Did I enjoy the book? When all is said and done….yes, it was an interesting read. Another Palahniuk…yes, but not just yet. And I’d like to read one of his non-fiction books too, maybe “Stranger than fiction”. Because if it really is stranger than his fiction…it’s definitely worth a look.