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Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
4.5
Book Name: Damned
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher(s): Random House
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / Ebook
Genre(s): Horror / Literary Fiction
Release Date: October 18, 2011

“So, I hesitate to even mention that I’m dead because everyone already feels so darned superior to dead people, even Mexicans and AIDS people.”

Madison has just woken up in Hell. She died from a supposed marijuana overdose. She is also 13-years-old.

Since Fight Club came out in 1996, Chuck Palahniuk has produced a steady stream of prose that many people find to be increasingly disturbing and in the case of the short story, Guts, people have even fainted during public readings…a lot of people. For the record, Guts is one of my very favourite short stories ever. I am a huge Palahniuk fan and although I have appreciated Chuck’s last few outings, (Pygmy and Snuff leap to mind) they just haven’t matched the nauseating wonderment of his earlier novels. So it is with great pleasure that I can say, Damned is the book I’ve been waiting for. It is as if Palahniuk went away and thought, “How the hell can I push the boundaries any further?”

This is Palahniuk’s version of Dante’s The Inferno except that this is a far less elegant version of Hell. Where Dante gave us a Hell of circles, fire and jagged rocks, Palahniuk gives us something closer to a gross-out theme park where the attractions include mountains of toenails, Shit Lake, the Ocean Of Wasted Sperm and, the one that will stick in your mind for a long time to come, the Swamp of Partial Abortions. This is a land where sweets that “even fat people and heroin junkies won’t eat,” are currency and inhabitants are regularly eaten by demons and forced to painfully regenerate. Hell is in every way the twisted place you’d expect it to be. It’s not all bad though, as the great inferno at least brings good job prospects, as long as you’re looking to either strip in front of webcams or be a telemarketer for the rest of eternity. Fortunately, Madison chooses the latter and uses her telephone time to convince good, wholesome people that Hell is actually a pretty great place to be, leading one old lady to burn down a church to ensure she gets there.

By the way, you may as well give up on your good, clean living as according to Damned it’s pretty certain you’re going to Hell. For example, you could be the most saintly person on Earth but if you’ve honked your car horn too many times, then bugger for you, because you’re damned!

Each chapter pretty much begins like the love letter of any young, teen girl, “Are you there, Satan? It’s me Madison,” which is actually in reference to the Judy Blume novel that inspired Palahniuk’s previous novel, Tell-All. This does a great job of reminding us that deep down, Damned is a story of a lonely girl who has always felt out of place and craved a real group of friends and what is particularly sweet is that she manages to find everything she’s ever wanted, in the one place you wouldn’t expect to. Only in a Palahniuk could someone find Hell kind of homely.

It’s hard not to like Madison, the young girl who has been forced to grow up in the nightmare world of glitz, glamour and Xanex. She’s pretty witty despite a bag of chips on her shoulder and she has a good way of looking on the bright side of life…or lack of it.

“I’m thirteen-years-old, and I’m a girl, and I’m dead. My name is Madison, and the last thing I need is your stupid condescending pity.”

What I love about Damned is that ultimately it just so damned funny. Humour permeates every page. One scene that particularly tickled me was where the great, ancient demon Psezpolnica (who is said to be the spawn of horny angels and specialises in lopping off heads) is tamed after a violent orgasm induced by 13-year-old Madison thrusting a severed, living head inside the beast’s most holy of holeys. Yup…

The most consistent humour probably comes from Madison’s real life which she discusses regularly to the point that you can see why she is so happy to be in Hell. Her parents are both successful Hollywood types who adopt/collect orphans from around the world and who consider themselves people of the world, who drive electric cars to save the planet, then have their dry cleaning flown in from France. I laughed out loud during ‘the talk’ where, trying to be responsible, Madison’s parents begin by telling her what happens when a man loves a woman very much. Or a man and another man…or two ladies…Awkward enough, but it gets better.

“Or when a man loves two women, or three women, backstage after a big rock concert,” her father says.

“Or when a whole cell block of male prisoners love one new inmate very, very much,” mom continues.

Eventually they resort to showing Madison sex orgy porn to which her mother tells her that that is where babies come from. To which he dad chips in, “And herpes.”

I love Damned. It’s like a return to glory.

This isn’t to say that I can’t find fault with Damned, in fact, far from it. Damned is rife with the kind of repetition that I suppose we’ve come to expect over the years from a Palahniuk novel. With Fight Club we were regularly fed lines like, “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise,” and in Diary we get regular updates in the form of, “Just for the record…” Well, twenty pages into Damned I was fearing this again with Madison’s 13-year-old chip on her shoulder forcing explain that she may be young/nearsighted/fat etc but she knows what words like absentia mean. Believe me, there is a butt load of repeated conventions in Damned and it quickly get’s irritating. This particularly repetition fortunately tapers off quickly as Madison finds her feet in Hell but that doesn’t stop others creeping in. By the time you finish this book, you’ll want to shoot anyone who says anything like Mr Pervy McPerv or Miss Coozy O’Cooznicks.

On top of this, the last fifth of the book seems to zoom past ridiculously fast as Madison turns from a girl who is happy to have found somewhere to call home into a meglomaniac who storms through Hell, banishing historical despots to a pretty gruesome punishment, while carrying Hitler’s moustache in her pocket. Nope, I’m not joking. It pretty much works but it just feels far, far too rushed.

The Bottom Line

For me, Damned is what you would get if The Breakfast Club had a love child with Jane Eyre which was promptly adopted by Brangelina and wrapped in a blanket made of Two Girls, One Cup. Imagine that and you’re pretty much on the right track. It isn’t perfect but it has enough imagination and gross humour to make it a great return to form from arguably one of the most inventive authors currently writing. Brilliant stuff.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (7 votes cast)
Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, 10.0 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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