Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Chuck Palahniuk - Pygmy (Jonathan Cape 2009)

It’s been less than a year since we Geek Pied about Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Snuff’, which was a quick brutal look at the porno industry. So prolific is he that we’ve entered a stage where every other Palahniuk book is good and considered, while the rest are turning out to be good ideas quickly realised. Unfortunately, ‘Pygmy’ falls into this camp of good idea half-realised. Written from the perspective of a terrorist sleeper cell operative infiltrating a host American family on a pretend foreign exchange, really a cover for Operation Chaos, the pygmy of the title ingratiates himself into society and somehow misunderstands (often ‘hilariously’) suburban American life. He is from a non-specified origin, somewhere in South East Asian, somewhere almost fascistic and Draconian and evil. He writes in impenetrable diloague that seems to have been translated a few times and written using an internet programme like Babelfish or Google Languages. I get why it’s written the way it is, and it’s consistent for much of the way, but this makes it near impossible to read and to follow. God forbid putting it down and coming back to it the next day, you lose the sense of rhythm and association a good session with the book eventually develops. But this is the programme, its lack of accessibility means the message gets lost. Also, while moving away mostly from Palahniuk’s usual dysfunctional family models scenario (even though taking place in a middle America family as fucked up as any of Palahniuk’s other family trees during the years), it hits pretty obvious targets like American crassness and ignorance, arrogance, high school hijinks, trenchcoat mafias and closet gay bullies. It seems to be a filtered dubbed version of Saved by the Bell showing in a foreign country. But this means that ultimately there’s no point agonising over trying to decipher the way it’s written. Underneath all the verbless sentences and strange syntax ticks, there’s a bogstandard novel there, lacking all of Palahniuk’s usual dynamic spark, wit and invention. It’s disappointing that it’s not worth the effort to muddle through and I confess, I couldn’t finish it, I couldn’t be bothered to invest that time because I cared so little about Pygmy, the title character, a vain passive aggressive sociopathic terrorist.

No comments: