Chuck Palahniuk – Damned

Now, Chuck is one of my favourite writers so I admit I’m usually biased when I pick up his latest book. But biased or not, the thing is, he’s just really good. Damned was a fun romp through Hell and features one of Chuck’s most memorable narrators. A chubby teenage-girl, daughter of rich Hollywood parents, with  more sense than is good for her.

by Chuck Palahniuk

published: 2011
by: Random House
pages: 247

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison.

Madison Spencer is the chubby, intelligent daughter of rich actor parents and welcomes a different new sibling to the family every other week – usually some orphaned child from a starving country (Brangelina, anyone?). At age 13, she dies of an overdose of marijuana and finds herself in Hell, which she soon discovers to be a lot more than smoke and brimstone. She and a group of fellow Hell-citizens go on a journey past the swamp of aborted children, the sea of discarded sperm and the desert of toenail clippings.

As usual, Chuck’s latest novel is instantly quotable. The things Madison comes up with are as well put as they are true. Reading this will (again, this is a Chuck thing) make you laugh out loud while twisting a salted knife in your guts (speaking of Guts – read it!). Damned holds up a mirror to society, to our narcissistic life style, our delusional ideas that by eating “organic” we’ll make it okay to drive a car that eats gallons of fuel. Of course, as this is set in Hell, there’s thoughts about religion, belief, and Heaven and Hell. Having followed Chuck’s writing for some years now and reading every interview I can find, none of his ideas surprised me, though they did give me strange comfort.

All the characters are well-developed, even if they only appear shortly. One gets an instant sense of like or dislike for them. Here’s a little thing that bothered me: A group of characters is introduced in the beginning and continues along with Madison for a while. Around the last third of the book, they all seem to disappear, except for the occasional, one-line cameo. That in itself is not a problem, but it felt unexplained and strange to me.

The plot takes a while to pick up but once it does, your mouth will gape open constantly. It may not be surprising that Hell features its very own call center or that all sorts of demons share the place with the condemned human souls. But Chuck mixes dark, dark humor with that thimbleful of undeniable truth so well that the book leaves you with a sense of both enjoyment and relief. It offers food for thought and although I doubt it will be a big hit in ladies’ book clubs, if you like Fight Club, pick this one up. And all other books by Chuck Palahniuk, for that matter. He’s that good!

THE GOOD: Black humor, concise writing, hints and jibes at our world and society. Great fun!
THE BAD: Maybe a bit crude or harsh for sensitive people (or, I’m assuming, very religious ones).
THE VERDICT: What you saw in Fight Club is what you get with Chuck. Almost all of his books are huge recommendations.


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