Monday, 15 September 2008

Snuff - Chuck Palahniuk (Jonathan Cape 2008)

So many people assume Chuck Palahniuk is the author equivalent of a shock-jock, trying to disgust us into reading his books as soon sort of attention-seeking. They seem to miss that a lot of his novels carry the themes of abandonment and his wickedly funny, darkly gallows humour is actually a mask for a series of books about the 21st century family. There are a lot of mummy and daddy issues in all of his books, and all his characters have been abandoned in some way or another, and they're just looking for a family, somewhere to call home.

'Snuff' is the latest in this series, a short quick visceral dissection of the porn industry. Cassie Wright is an ageing porn queen staging a cum-back with the largest gangbang ever, taking 600 men into her vagina. Chuck establishes the difference between this and other 'world-record gangbangs' which have loosely been described as sex acts. The rumours going round are that the 600th man to penetrate Cassic, not only will immortalise her, but kill her too. Are we watching a snuff film?

Similar to most Palahniuk books we follow closely a character's POV of the events. However the difference here and in 'Rant' his last book, we're following a series of POV's, opinions and recollections, creating a nu-oral history of the event. Chuck plays with the fact that we're listening to conjecture, how much actually happened. We watch events unfold in real time from different perspectives. Mr 600 is Cassie's heyday schlong jockey friend, looking to help her to her world record. Mr 77 claims to be her porn baby, one in a series of men convinced she sired them through accidental pop shots inside of her. Mr 127 is an out-of-work TV actor looking to destroy rumours that have dogged his career by starring in this porn film. He is popping Viagra constantly but why? The handler who has put the whole thing together, slowly reveals her macabre plan for doing so with flashback meetings and preps with Cassie. We never hear from Cassie, she is above the action, in and out of sex comas.

We slowly build to the real reasons for the entire event, and the characters' motivations for being there.

Being a fan of Palahniuk, I can take most of what he throws. From his usual device of repeated phrases and stoccatto facts littering the prose, to the way he weaves in comment on the darker fringes of his subjects' obsessions, he is an intelligent, thoughtful and claustrophobic writer, able to change moods and topics with ease. The amount of research he puts into each of his subjects and the fringe scenes they operate out of is admirable. He is flawless in his style and his ability to tell twisted family dramas knows no bounds. This is a great book, easy to read and damning of people and families and mums and dads and informative about the porn industry and its horrific side. Snuff... it's like a drug.


A film of Chuck Palahniuk's novel, 'Choke' about cruising sex addiction meetings is out this year.

Join Chuck's writing cult here and submit short stories of your own, of which he'll provide the theme:

Read his gut-wrenching short-story 'Guts' here:

In order of favourites here are all his books, all readable:

1) Fight Club
2) Survivor
3) Invisible Monsters
4) Choke
5) Snuff
6) Haunted - read all the short stories and don't bother with the inbetween bits though
7) Rant
8) Lullaby
9) Diary

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