Book - #SaveTheCulture: Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk

In our effort to #SaveTheCulture here at /G-f and keep what we consider to be important books in the public conscience, Nate McKenzie nominated Romeo Kennedy to read Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk...

I was nominated by our American teammate Nate McKenzie (aka @WriteMyWrong on Twitter) to read Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk and I jumped at the chance as I haven’t read anything by Palahniuk but am familiar with his legacy i.e Fight Club, Choke etc. 

I was also told that people had suffered physical reactions at public readings of this book as well as being advised not to read it on a full stomach. 

Not even half way through the book, I had thoughts. Lots of them. And, yes I know, that is dangerous.

I honestly don’t think that I have ever read anything like this before. I like to think that I’m somewhat fairly well versed in the horror genre, both with books and film. And, yes, I’ve read some stuff that is pretty damn gory, also seen a few films that are pretty bloody grim, but I don’t think that I have ever read anything or seen anything close to Haunted.

"So what’s it all about, Romeo, and did you manage to keep the contents of your stomach?" I hear you cry.

Well I can tell you what it's all about but, as for the latter question, I shall leave you in suspense. Ain’t that exciting? Maybe I should even take bets for this.

Haunted is framed by an arcing narrative that tells the story of twenty three individuals who have answered an advert to take part in a writers retreat. “Leave your life for two months.” says the advert.

Writers retreat. Sounds lovely. One can imagine a beautiful country house in the middle of pleasant surroundings, perhaps there is a cat, and everything is warm and inviting. Well, the retreat in Haunted couldn’t be more different. Everything you imagine is the complete opposite and then some, but there is a cat.

Each of the characters have nicknames except for Mr. Whittier, an old man who sets this scheme up, and a woman by the name of Mrs Clark. The nicknames are in relation to a trait, behavioural or otherwise, of each of the characters, for example, Miss Sneezy, The Duke of Vandals, Lady Baglady etc. After the gradual introduction of the writers, they arrive at a theatre which is to be their retreat come prison. Everything is locked and they will not leave until their two months is up.  Within the frame of the main narrative comes the short stories (all of which are unconnected) that are the writer’s masterpieces, each story being introduced by a free verse poem relating to the character.

The first story is the infamous ‘Guts’ by Saint Gut-Free, a story which has been the cause of a large number of people fainting at Palahniuk’s readings. Guts can be summed-up as... the dangers of creative masturbation. I don’t think I can look at a candle in the same way again. ‘Guts’ climax (Oh, do behave) is particularly nasty and literally throws the reader in the deep end. Guts is not the most disgusting story by far but it certainly leaves an impression. 

Some of the other stories like Civil Twilight by Sister Vigilante, The Nightmare Box by Mrs Clark, Swan Song by the Earl of Slander, Slumming by Lady Baglady and Footwork by Mother Nature clearly make use of Palahniuk’s nihilist writing style and are probably some of the lesser shocking tales. Other stories like Green Room by Miss America and Punch Drunk by the Reverend Godless didn’t really work for me, as they felt empty in terms of substance and story. 

Obsolete by Mr Whittier is the final short of the book and is a very interesting one. Obsolete is a bleak vision of the future and space exploration. It is a story that like the ones I previously mentioned, doesn’t fit in but is still a very good story, and in a completely contradictory way, completes the short stories nicely. Some of the stories are really nasty, and contain all sorts of shocking things, and I don’t mean a nasty monster that lives under the sink. Exodus by Director Denial is probably one of the most upsetting, sickening and disturbing stories you are likely to read. Similar can be said of Speaking Bitterness by Comrade Snarky. Palahniuk’s stories are graphic, to say the least.

Whilst all these stories are being told by our cast of writers stuck in the theatre retreat, their own life stories are being played out within the confines of the theatre. The characters see themselves as heroes in the biographic of their lives and, the more they can suffer, the more blockbuster-worthy their tales will be. Each of them start sabotaging things within the reatreat, such as the locks on the door, disconnecting the fire alarm to make doubly certain that no one will come for them, thus to make sure that they can suffer as much as possible before eventual rescue. They ruin the food, mess with the electrics and boiler room, and everyone is downright miserable. But anything for that taste of fame and piles of money right?

I won’t spoil it, but again Palahniuk’s shock powers are strong.

Haunted is a shocking novel and Palahniuk is very good at utilising that shock. Although it can be quite wearing in the sense that, toward the end of the book it becomes apparent that certain things are just there to shock but this is not a bad thing, necessarily.

As far as #SaveTheCulture goes, yes this is a book that I would recommend but cautiously, even though the contents of my stomach stayed firmly on the inside and my upright composure (steady on) was never compromised. It was an intense read, and not in the sense of on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride a minute, but just with the onslaught of nihilism and inhumanity that the characters all carried out. The irony of which is all the writers want to be the hero of the story but all are firmly villains.

And so to the next #SaveTheCulture book nomination (drum roll please) I will nominate Super Susan Omand and I have chosen Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson.

A book where a time traveller, a talking dog and aliens all walk into a bar (not at the same time) and a most enjoyable book happens. To me Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (Or, as the U.K edition is titled Callahan’s Crazy Crosstime Bar) is an SF novel (of which sequels were spawned) that deserves to be read. And it's by an author with quite possibly the coolest name ever.