Haunted is a strange tale, not really fitting in as a novel and not really fitting in as a collection of short stories either. Haunted is 23 short tales, told by a group of people who've chosen to abandon their lives for three months to escape to an artist's retreat.
But the artist's retreat is no beautiful desert island or picture postcard log cabin, it is a run down, cavernous theatre. Sealed in from the outside world they start their confinement full of ideas. But soon turn on themselves, creating a nightmare world where food, heat,power and good will are in increasingly short supply. Soon they all start competing with each other for the dubious award of most shocking experience, resorting to mutilating themselves in an attempt to secure the starring role in what they see as the inevitable media frenzy following their release.
Each short chapter details the next degradation they put themselves through and Palahniuk certainly tries to cover a lot of ground; cannibalism and self-mutilation seemingly in nearly every chapter. And between the ongoing tale of the suffering we have the victims telling stories to each other. These are described as "23 of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach churning tales you'll ever encounter."
Now I may be a victim of having read far too much, seen too much weird stuff and had my ideas of what constitutes the most "horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach churning" things warped and twisted by reading the Fortean Times, Bizarre magazine and the ravings of Warren Ellis as he links to things like eel-sex and body modding , but I just didn't see it that way.
Sure, the stories are nice, funny examples of the weird and strange stuff that fill Firtean Times or Bizarre. But they're no more than that.
But then I look online at a few reviews to see what everyone else thinks and I find phrases like this:
"Palahniuk is a modern author and ‘Haunted’ is a very modern book. Filled with some of the most violent and graphic imagery I have read, this book is only for those with a strong constitution." Review from hereMaybe I am more twisted and attenuated to this sort of thing?
"Anyone easily offended or suffer from a weak stomach should definetly avoid this book. For example, the story simply titled "Guts" opens the book and has been making people faint and vomit around the world simply by reading it or having it read to them." Review from here.
Maybe I should be worried?
Or maybe, just maybe, I'm right and this isn't overly graphic, isn't a horror tour-de-force I think Palahniuk has just had a few ideas floating around his notebook for years that he always thought he could do something with and never managed to. Then he decided to have a clear out. And this is the result. And instead of presenting these ideas as a short story collection he decides to take a blunderbuss approach to today's celebrity culture and create a slightly tedious, slightly pretentious framing device of the storytellers retreat.
A shame really as I loved Fight Club (film and book), Survivor and most recently the astonishingly good Diary.