Haunted (2005)
By: Julian on September 18, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
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Credits
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 412 pages
I was awake for well over twenty hours, and about three-quarters of the way into a twelve-hour flight. Claustrophobic and pissed-off, I opened the paperback I had picked up from the airport – Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted. I was an affirmed fan of Fight Club, but that's where my Palahniuk experience ended.

And the first chapter knocked me for a six.

Haunted is probably one of the most grotesque, macabre and disgusting novels I've ever read; the 'Parental Advisory' sticker carrying more weight than the usual exploitation advertising. Those who have read the book will know what I am referring to when I say Guts, the opening short story, is one of the most quease-inducing pieces of writing ever put to print by mainstream publishing houses.

But, if you're getting the wrong idea, I'll say this – Haunted is a terrific piece of work. Controversial and provocative means, in my books, something that's to be respected, particularly if the art form, be it film, books, music or visual, genuinely has something to say. Haunted is a character study, a deeply disturbing horror tale and a fantasy adventure of the best sort; a surreal mind-bender that delights in beating the reader about. The main narrative surrounds a group of struggling authors, a gang of deviants, misfits and worse, who go to a writer's retreat located at a secluded European lakeside chateau. They have no contact with the outside world, food is rationed, and they'll do anything to produce a brilliant piece of writing.

As the group realise that supplies are running low and they're turning on each other in increasingly violent ways, they notice that their plight would become a helluva blockbuster, a bestselling book or a smash-hit movie, and they begin to connive ways to position themselves as the 'hero' of the tale. Punctuating this are the stories and poems that are the product of the writers camp, the often-appalling ditties of some genuinely disturbed characters.

Read a lot of horror released at the moment, even by once-were maestros Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and you'll probably find that there's too much pulp and not enough raw terror. Haunted is a novel that has raw terror in spades. I'm not sure which plot lines were scarier – the punctuating short stories or the narrative itself, which would span approximately half of the novel. Both are deliciously grotesque, and eminently readable.

It's a glowing affirmation for a horror fan to read some of the reviews that Haunted was given, particularly those directed at one of the short stories, St Gut Free's Guts. According to Palahniuk in the afterword that has been included in this edition of the novel, seventy-three people have fainted during public readings of Guts: 'For a nine page story, some nights it takes thirty minutes to read,' Palahniuk explains. 'In the first half, you're pausing for so much laughter from your audience. In the second half, you're pausing as your audience is revived.' Accounts of the author finishing the chapter's closing sentence while the sounds of ambulance sirens call are common and, according to the author, Playboy had declined to buy the story owing to its content, but when the magazine's fiction editor saw the audience reaction at a local bookstore, they bought it with gusto.

To give Guts away would be criminal, but, and according to Palahniuk himself, it's by no means the most shocking work to be found in Haunted – that accolade could surely be given to Director Denial's Exodus. Perhaps not as graphic, but certainly far more shocking in its implications. And, and this is the biggest hint you'll get from your male reviewer, leg-crossingly so. Or perhaps even the Matchmaker's Ritual, an offbeat (to say the least) and, um, affectionate familial wartime recollection. But really, Haunted can be best described as a treasure trove of terrors, the narrative one of the most surreal, blackly funny things I've read since American Psycho, and the short stories are gruesome little epithets that perfectly complement the main proceedings.

Hauntedis incredibly well written and produces some genuine terror – not in the jolt-in-your-seat sense, but the plagues-your-dreams-for-days sense. Dozens of people passing-out during readings? Palahniuk might just be the coolest author in town…
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