Damned, By Chuck Palahniuk

Hell is the Devil's own call centre

Peter Carty
Sunday 04 September 2011 00:00
Comments

Madison is 13, and in Hell.

Exactly why is unclear, because her claim that it's due punishment for smoking pot lacks credibility. In customary Chuck Palahniuk fashion, she is an outsider, alienated from school and parents both. She's also a spunky girl. "Death is what you make of it," she declares, as she gets to grips with her new abode.

As you might expect, Palahniuk's version of Hell is less elegant and elaborate than Dante's. It is not high on horror, thankfully, and its topography owes as much to the transgressive end of contemporary art as Bosch or Breughel. Madison encounters lakes of superfluous sperm and tepid bile, rivers of vomit, hills of nail clippings; a vista of bodily wastes writ large.

It turns out that Hell is not other people either, when we watch Madison befriend an engaging punk, Archer, and a teenage fashion victim, Babette, whose killer heels are great for avoiding the cockroaches that scuttle about on Hell's floors. At times, Madison's reflections appear unduly mature for her tender years, but the upside is the entertaining riffs on the shortcomings of her parents – a couple of self-indulgent Hollywood stars addicted to adopting children from impoverished countries.

So death is not the end of the world, and soon Madison is being put to work. You might be interested to learn that Hell's residents toil away in call centres dedicated to tormenting the living, primed to ring us up with pointless marketing questionnaires just as we sit down to dinner. This is satire as diverting as Will Self's conceit that the dead go off to live in Dulston (a hitherto unknown east London borough).

Palahniuk has never fully emerged from the shadow of Fight Club, his first and most successful fictional work, despite writing no fewer than 11 successors. And as ever, other than a certain amount of camp discussion about Madison's sartorial sensibilities, subtlety is not a consideration here.

Yet it is entertaining to witness Palahniuk's energetic flailing, while he flogs the dead horse of another narrative into fictional pulp. If death is done to death and beyond, Damned is an entertaining addition to his oeuvre – in part because, some way in, the story begins to take on a distinctly optimistic quality, and Palahniuk dangles the possibility of redemption in front of Madison. It looks as if there might be a sequel in store for us, too.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in