The Guts and the Gory
Haunted: a novel of stories
Oh, Chuck. Where did we go wrong, honey? Once, your words were like a soothing balm of awesome to my eyes. Now, I feel slightly meh’d. Believe me, it’s not you. But then again, it’s not me either. It’s Haunted.
This had all the makings of a fantastic read – the parental advisory on the front cover, reports of fainting (fainting!) when one of the stories was read by Chuck at a Borders somewhere on a book tour. I’m still slightly amazed by that, there must have been some seriously weak-stomached people (or maybe just people with seriously great imaginations) in the audience. For some reason, I could never find Haunted in a bookstore here at Earth’s End, so I purchased a copy over the interwebs, no big thing. It’s not on the database of items which freaked the Censor’s Office out (though hilariously, there is a video called ‘My Ass is Haunted’ in there – somehow, I don’t think they’re talking about a donkey there), so who knows where it got to. Anyway, it’s weird, I got to nearly half way, bottled out of reading the rest a few weeks ago, but for some reason picked it up again over the weekend. It’s good writing, the premise is solid… but… but… something is missing.
Like a lot of people, I came to Chuck Palahniuk’s writing after Fight Club (the movie) came out. The movie was great – I adore Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham-Carter, and that other guy isn’t so bad either – but the book is… genius. And, okay, I know this happens all the time, but the book is actually loads more deep than you’d ever credit from the movie alone. For a fairly slim volume (it’s almost a novella), it packs a big punch; aside from the twist in the tail, there is a lot to think about in Fight Club – serious stuff, things like the massive gap between the working poor and the classes above them, things relating to the way men and women see the world differently, and about how the ‘button down world’ of late capitalism cannot scratch every itch. I guess you could equate Fight Club in some ways to Trainspotting – same kind of feeling around the edges, the characters all in search of something intangable which the society in which they live is no longer capable of providing, and everyone in that society is at a loss to explain exactly where it went. Phew, that was a long sentence.
And I loved Rant too. Like seriously loved it. I must have read it five or six times now, and the binding is beginning to go at the top from being pulled out of the bookshelf so many times (there are only three other books that I can safely say I’ve read more than three times; we’ve already said all we’ll say about Trainspotting, and the other two are The Stand by Stephen King, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – go figure on that one). So what is it about Haunted? It’s really not anything that I can put my finger on, which is really annoying. I guess the story struggles, and the… fuck. Who am I kidding? There isn’t really a good reason for me to dislike this book so much, other than the fact it didn’t make me faint or feel weird or anything. I feel a bit cheated.
It might be because Chuck’s own voice is so strong, now I’m actually thinking properly about it. I mean, the idea behind a book like this is that you have a group of characters, in this case the only thing that the characters have in common is that they are willing to do pretty much anything in order to become “famous” writers (rather than good writers – major distinction there). The characters are bought together by a common incident or trait, but then you allow them to tell their own story in their own ‘voice’. Palahniuk has a really strong style of writing. Palahniuk’s style is choppy sentences, hyper-real details, and (I haven’t read all his stuff, so please correct me if I’m wrong), a first person perspective. That all works super-well for him. But in this particular case, it makes it hard, especially when you’re dealing with characters who are all writers. If a writer followed another that closely in style, it would be parody (or plagerism).
There are some great moments, and some totally quotable quotes, don’t get me wrong. My favourite story in the book is ‘Ambition’ by the character called the Duke of Vandals, but mainly I think because the project that the Duke of Vandals does is really similar to a Banksy project. Similar? It’s pretty much the same. This project of Banksy’s was done in the US in 2005, which is the same year that the original version of Haunted was published, so it’s moot who got the drop on who. It does seem that they had the same sort of sentiment behind the projects that they embark on – the Duke, in his story, says that “All the dinky old masterpiece paintings with their puffed up reputations… what it meant was he could do better.” (pg 129) Banksy reckoned that his stuff was good enough to go into a big museum already, so why should he wait around?
Uh, anyway, now we’re starting to teeter dangerously on the edge of ‘off-topic’, would I recommend this book? It would depend on what you were reading it for – as an example of awesome character building, no. As a squeem-making, gross-out, brutal look at what some people will do to themselves and each other, Palahniuk is the master, and he doesn’t let you forget it for a second. But I’d rather stick to his novels, myself. Just let me know if you faint.