Saturday, April 15, 2006

#29 - Haunted

When I first read Pamie's description of the experience with the novel Haunted, and then heard all the stories about the crazy things Palahniuk does at his readings (the raw meat smells, the breath holding), I had pretty much made up my mind I would never, ever pick up this book.

I'm not a big fan of horror movies. They scare me too much. I have trouble separating the fact from the fiction. My RRHB took me to see The Exorcist when it was re-issued a few years ago. I have never seen another horror movie in the theatre. Oh sure, once in a while he'll force me to watch Sean of the Dead or something of the like, and I'll survive—but I won't like it, that's for sure.

Just let me give you an example, you know that totally silly movie with Richard Gere and Laura Linney The Mothman Prophecies? Okay, that film, that timid piece of Hollywood dreck, scared me so much that I slept with the light on.

So, the creepy, freaky world of Haunted wasn't going to be easy. But all the other girls I was reading the book with (even Sam) managed to finish it, so off I went. One part of me wished I was still doing the Book A Day challenge because then I could read it quickly (with a deadline) so the scariness doesn't keep freaking me out and make me check under the bed before I go to sleep.

Haunted is a series of interlinked stories, each introduced by a prose poem, with narrative sprinkled in that sets the novel at a writer's retreat. Only this isn't your average writer's retreat—no one's leaving. The short stories are written by the subject of the preceding poem, and everyone has nicknames (Earl of Slander, Miss America, etc), which somewhat reflect why they are there and who they are.

The tales are succinct and are more like morality plays in a sense. It's a book of stories, but it's also very much about storytelling and storytelling techniques. And there's an historical aspect that I liked very much as well, how many of the characters kept mentioning the retreat in terms of the Villa Diodati, where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (the real Frankenstein, not the one I abridged, there was no Villa in my writing experience, sigh). I guess in a way he's sort of writing back to the Romantics, to Poe, continuing the tradition before we were over-stimulated by slasher films, where you could be scared just by words on a page.

Palahniuk does this exceptionally well. There's a literary bent to his writing that steers it away from Stephen King territory (but correct me if I'm wrong because I've never read a Stephen King novel), and the one quality I truly admire about this novel is how he never takes the stories where you might imagine they would go.

If I had to pick a favourite, it might have to be "Slumming" by Lady Baglady. In a way, it's almost a parody of Jay McInerney's Good Life, which I found kind of refreshing. The ooky-spooky stuff is still there but I liked the commentary about how poverty is the new rich and how ridiculously wealthy people were dipping themselves in urine scents and partying under bridges.

And the title is perfect. It works on so many levels. Damn book, I can't get it out of my mind even though I've moved on to a murder mystery (something Murder She Wrote-ish) so I can finally get some sleep.

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