Saturday, December 03, 2005

Review: Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk

Haunted is the most compulsive, not to mention repulsive, book I've read this year. It is horror fiction with brains, a satire of the intertwined cults of victimhood and celebrity, and a neat analysis of the storytelling impulse. It is funny, disgusting, and often sad. In other words: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl.

Having answered a newspaper ad for a writer's retreat ("Abandon your life for three months"), a disparate group of people find themselves locked in a derelict theatre. Sensing an opportunity for celebrity, they set about exacerbating their already unpleasant circumstances, effectively writing the story of their ordeal as they experience it, in anticipation of cashing in once they are rescued. Meanwhile, they tell stories. Autobiographical stories, fantastic stories, stories that play out like urban myths. Stories that, for all their horror and desperation, constitute the heart and soul of the book.

Palahniuk isn't being pretentious when he calls Haunted "a novel of stories". The stories, and to a lesser extent the short poems that precede each tale, are the book. The bridging sections, in which an unamed narrator (or narrators?) tells the "real" story of life in the theatre, tend towards the jocular and cartoonish. The characters as depicted in these sections are at once insubstantial and larger-than-life. It is only through their stories that we gain access to their true psychology. The traditional critical admonishment to distinguish between a writer and his or her work is discarded. These writers are their stories, and their stories are Palahniuk's story.

Apart from being formally innovative, Haunted is also a disturbing, yet oddly fun, read. With few exceptions, the twenty-three stories are excellent. Palahniuk is often accused of covering similar ground in each book, but in fact his concerns are far broader than many contemporary novelists, and he refrains from providing easy answers, or blanket condemnations. The stories are varied in theme and tone - the very sick humour of "Guts", the pathos of "Post-Production", the chill of the contemporary werewolf story "Dissertation" - and the prose brisk and witty. What I really loved about Haunted is that it is addictive not only because of its gross-out factor, but also because it is intellectually provocative and amusing. That said, Haunted's brand of horror is very explicit, and a quick scan of online reviews reveals that pretty much everybody hates it except for me and the man from the Guardian. If you can take it, however, Haunted is a dead-set winner.

5 comments:

JPW said...

You know, I'd about given up on old Chuck (a la my Sottissier), but I've been hearing so many good things about 'Haunted' (and, yeah, "Guts" is one of the few shorts stories I've ever wished I could have written), that I reckon I'm about due to give him another whirl.

Tim said...

I haven't read them, but apparently Lullaby and Diary move away from the Fight Club template. Haunted is certainly very different to the early books, although it's still Palahniuk through and through.

"Guts" is great. It's one of the few pieces of fiction I've read that actually provokes a physical reaction. And you've got to admire the fact that it's the first story in the book. No hiding it in the back somewhere for Palahniuk. It's like he's daring you to continue reading the book.

Beth said...

So, if I can handle Easton Ellis, you reckon I can handle this? Sounds fascinating. Maybe I can borrow it off you during one of our famous horse-trading sessions...

Anonymous said...

Ive read most of Chuck Palahniuks books and i love them all i dont know which one is the best...maybe fight club cause i love the movie but Haunted was a great book to i love Palahniuks writing...i am writing a Critical Review on Haunted if anyone can helpe me(cause i suck at writing papers :/ ) please help lol email me at ffaf165f4af@yahoo.com thanks...read Haunted if u havent...its great!

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Haunted: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.