Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Snuff

Snuff

I’m having a little difficulty in thinking of how to start this review, not because Snuff was a difficult read by any means, but more because there is no way in which I can say what I want to without sounding terribly desensitized. So I’m just going to come out and say it;

Snuff was not what I expected.

This is not to say that it was a let down, at all (I enjoyed it rather a lot, make of that what you will), but rather that the title connotes something a little more extreme than I found inside. A little context, look away now if you would like. I won’t bother linking to the Wikipedia entry, mostly because it is not safe for school or work. Essentially, ‘snuff’ is a film genre in which an actual murder is depicted; not fancy Hollywood special effects, a living, breathing human being murdered on film. If one was to watch a snuff film, they would be watching a person die … needless to say, as murder is a punishable crime, these films are not exactly part of a mainstream genre.

Now what does this have to do with the novel, other than the title? What does it even have to do with the review? Well, first, let me make it clear that I did not buy this book based solely on the title, as it suggests something rather different than the actual content. That said, I didn’t buy the book based on this, either. I was feeling particularly gutsy at the time I made The Reading List #1, and wanted to read Snuff before those guts went away (no pun intended). The context that snuff films are used in throughout Snuff is in pornography; Wikipedia won’t cover this, although there is evidence to suggest that this is a subgenre that exists. The shameful, shocking fact of the matter is that some of pornography floating around the Internet can actually tend be a lot worse than snuff films are; here, in Snuff itself, there is no mention of brutal murder, but rather the insinuation that Cassie Wright, the woman all the novel’s narrators (apart from Sheila) are here to have sex with on camera, may even just die accidentally.

The story is told through the eyes of four characters in particular; Mr. 600 (or Branch Bacardi), a seasoned porn actor seemingly reaching the end of his career; Mr. 137, a former prime-time television star intending to act in the film to out himself as straight after an adult movie from his past surfaced, ending his career; Mr. 72 (Darin Johnson), a nineteen-year-old who believes that he is the son porn actress Cassie Wright gave up for adoption and Sheila, Cassie’s personal assistant and talent wrangler on-set, tasked with the job of keeping six-hundred men in check. I’ll take a moment to explain the plot, because none of the former makes much sense without it. Porn actress Cassie Wright is looking to set a new world record, by having sex with six-hundred men on camera – we quickly learn that she was impregnated during the filming of her debut, and that the money this record-breaking film makes will all go to her child, a boy she put up for adoption nearly twenty years ago, in an attempt to make things right between them. When I picked Snuff up, I didn’t expect there to be so much emphasis on the theme of mothers and sons, but there is, to quite and extent.

There is much more emotional depth than the title, or even the synopsis suggests, and to an extent, more of an engagement with the characters than I initially thought would be possible.  In true Palahniuk style, almost everything is described in vivid, brutal detail, but only the things that might make your stomach churn; the idea of six hundred men sharing the same, small toilet should give you enough of an idea to go on. Interspersed between these are small snippets of movie and pop-culture trivia – what could be small facts, such as Marilyn Monroe cutting one oh her high heels shorter than the other to give the desired effect on her rear as she walked, or Lucille Ball letting her hair grow down the sides of her face, wrapping it around toothpicks and pulling the hair back, effectively giving herself a face-lift without surgery, albeit an agonizing one. Things like this, that seem so absurd they may just have happened (a number that I know are facts due to being an ex-film student).

It would be easy enough to dismiss this as a novel solely about the porn industry, or about sex in general, or a sweeping indictment of popular culture. It is not. The one thing that is far more prevalent than the trivia about pornography, or films in general, or the gristly ‘behind the scenes’ moments is the emphasis placed on relationships. Relationships between parents and children, first and foremost, but also the relationships formed in a day, in an instant, or the relationships based on what almost seems to be nothing. Mistrust, and essentially, lies. Or the relationships that are ruined forever in a split second, by way of one small secret getting out, that influences far more important choices. This is what I, personally, felt Palahniuk was getting at with this novel. That is not to say that I am right, but this is what I took away from the experience of reading it. Where I went into it apprehensively, not fully knowing what to expect and holding my breath, I came out of it realizing the relationships illustrated were more touching than I had initially considered they would be.

Of course, another thing that Palahniuk is undoubtedly getting at is the damaged nature of society – perhaps the most disturbing thing about reading Snuff was that it caused me to re-evaluate myself as both a person, and a reader, to an extent. I read and reread it, and yet, I didn’t find myself shocked in the sense that I was unable to believe some of the things mentioned actually existed. I met much of the subject matter with a weary kind of acknowledgment, but maybe this is just a side-effect of being a twenty-first century teenager; maybe I am exactly the kind of person that Palahniuk was aiming a hefty kick at when writing this. We’re too far gone to see exactly what is wrong. This is the underlying message, rather than the projected one, and indeed, it is easy enough to miss – I missed it almost entirely during my first reading, possibly because I was still trying to come to terms with the fact that this was not what I had expected. I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, however.

I could go on, of course, on and on about how so many of the shocking things the reader can be exposed to in Snuff are actually quite real. Whether it is immediately apparent or not, there are some extreme tongue-in-cheek moments, not counting every single mention of porn pun titles which are, in some cases, explained by the various narrators. While this review hasn’t exactly been PG so far, I think I can spare you all some examples lifted directly from the text; indeed, there is no way in which to write a PG review of a Palahniuk novel, or at least, I have yet to find a way. The changing perspectives, also, were of course, something I have found useful to look into due to my own work on Free Fall; the four voices are all at once very similar, but also very different. After the second reading, I found myself able to effectively pin-point which character was speaking without having to refer back to the chapter ‘headings’, there are always certain mannerisms, signs, that point towards which of them are speaking, the most obvious being short phrases that occur regularly throughout; Mr. 600 referring to everyone as ‘dudes’, Mr.137’s ‘wouldn’t you know it?’, Mr. 72’s ‘I don’t know’ and Sheila making frequent use of the phrase ‘true fact’, which is usually preceded by some variation of the aforementioned Hollywood trivia.

Make no mistake, reading Snuff is not a task that should be entered into lightly; there are stomach-churning moments, and events that will simply make you cringe and almost weep with embarrassment for the characters … this is all without mentioning the shocking ending that I am not going to reveal or spoil for anyone. What I will say, however, is that it featured an event that I would have never thought possible. Intestines being sucked out, I can understand, I’ve heard that one before. Being boiled alive in a hot spring, not so implausible. Snuff’s finale, however, is something I never considered, though this is most likely because it’s not particularly one of those things you tend to think about late at night. It’s not something that immediately comes to mind when considering the finer points of human intimacy (or carnality as the case may be).

For the most part, I haven’t found Snuff to be immensely well-received, but it does have its advocates. In case it isn’t immediately obvious, I am an advocate myself, but this is not unusual – I tend towards the things that other people are opposed to, or repulsed by, or quite simply, hate. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. Much of the emphasis of many of the reviews I have read has been on the fact that it is set during the filming of a pornographic movie, rather than what I feel the novel’s actual content is … a shame, or possible denial, and indeed, it is very easy, while reading, to launch directly into denial. It is almost sinfully easy to flick from page to page and proudly think to myself, ‘I’ve never watched anything quite as messed up as that‘, even though the fact remains that this is, most likely, untrue. Whether it be pornography or gore, or anything else on this spectrum, sometimes denial is the only real way of admitting to over indulgence.

Denial like Mr.72’s refusal to consider the fact that he is unable to return home purely because of his own choices, until after his money shot.

Like Mr.137 starring in an all-male porn film to prove that his father didn’t molest him.

Like what seems to be Mr.600’s entire life, or at the very least,  his inability to accept that the withered shadow of a porn star that he is watching on screen is him, only five years prior to the shoot he is about to partake in.

Snuff is not really an examination of why men and women alike choose to shoot these films. Why websites I won’t mention here do so well, and make so much money. One thing it is impossible to deny is that it does look at society as a collective, but rather in what is no longer there – how we seem to have lost some combination of our compassion, humanity, or our capacity to recognize how wrong some things really are. It takes into consideration the notion of freedom of choice, not so much how free our choices are, but whether or not to point out to a grown adult that they are doing something wrong. I was most at ease when reading this, when I was considering others rather than myself; when I was considering why the characters act in the ways they do, and when their motives started to make more sense according to their back stories. I wasn’t so comfortable when I was forced to acknowledge that yes, as a reader, I most likely am one of those people who is beyond help.

The Final Summary:

Palahniuk is, of course, true to form here. From a personal standpoint, Snuff is not X-Rated, but it is easy to see why it would be. This is nothing new, of course; much like Haunted, this is not for the weak of stomach or will, and the ending is, quite literally, shocking – a visceral image that stayed with me from finishing my first read through to finishing my second, where it stunned me slightly less because I knew what was going to happen. This book is not a read for everyone, but is interesting enough if you’re a Palahniuk fan, or looking for something disturbingly different.

A Few Links: 

Snuff Book Review at the Chicago Centre for Literature and Photography
Snuff on Goodreads
Snuff at The Cult [Official Chuck Palahniuk Website]
Snuff on Amazon.com

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Book Review: Haunted

Haunted
Haunted may very well be infamous, or at least, one of its short stories, Guts most assuredly is. If you’ve never heard of Guts, then you most likely won’t want to hear about it, and if you have heard of it, then you’ll know at least a little about its bizarre legacy. The public readings peppered with two or three people fainting during each. Also known as ‘The Guts Effect.’

I powered through Haunted in much the same way as I have powered through all the books I have bought and received in the past few days. It’s difficult to describe exactly what drew me to it in the first place, other than a curiosity instilled by a friend who explained Guts to me before English class last year. I’m still not sure why I didn’t hunt for it to begin with. Maybe I was a little scared of it.

In all honesty, I’m not so sure what I was scared of; Haunted didn’t disappoint, not by a long shot, but I got the sense, before I started reading it on Sunday night, that I would need to prepare myself for the worst. I had the expectation that whatever I had endured while reading American Psycho would pale in comparison to what Haunted was about to put me through. For someone who didn’t entirely know what to expect, I sure had my expectations.

Perhaps it was the reactions of other people that had read this novel that conditioned me; trying not to spoil it for myself, I still wanted to see what others had to say about it on Goodreads and elsewhere on the Internet. The bulk of what I found basically told me that everyone who had read this book was grossed out, with the exception of one or two strong-stomached reviewers. Fair enough. I have a strong stomach, I thought, or at least, I do in most senses. This isn’t something I need to harp on about, of course … I found myself significantly affected by American Psycho mostly for its brutality, so I expected to react in a similar way. I breathed in, out, in, out slowly before reading Guts, made sure I was lying down on the sofa (just in case), pillow behind my head, flicking through the pages with trembling hands. First comes Saint Gut-Free’s poem, and then … I prepare myself for the worst …

It wasn’t Guts that got me, though. Guts, I read through and genuinely wondered what all the fuss had been about. I’ve never tasted calamari in my life. It made me glad I don’t eat corn, though. When you stop and think about it, the scene in itself is horrific enough – if you’ve seen The Final Destination‘s swimming pool scene, you’re halfway there. If you haven’t, I’ll spare you the details; the words ‘pool filter’, ‘intestines’ and ‘prolapse’ should say enough. Maybe I was conditioned, long before reading this, by the tale about the guy who, imitating a Jackass stunt, ended up with a bird scarer attached to his intestines. It’s not as uncommon as it may seem.

Honestly, the two stories I can pinpoint as affecting me most while reading Haunted were Comrade Snarky’s tale, Speaking Bitterness, and The Baroness Frostbite’s Hot Potting, both for very different reasons. It’s difficult to fully explain why without spoiling the book should anyone want to read it, and without revealing rather too much about myself (more than I feel needs to be revealed right here on this blog). So I’ll say this: Speaking Bitterness disturbed me from a personal place, from personal experience. It was, however, a harsh warning, I felt, not so much directed at me, but I took it on. That out of what happened to the characters in this particular short story, a different kind of evil was born. It was a warning to me not to cross the line and become so mistrustful that I end up that way. Hot Potting on the other hand, was something a part of me dreaded reading, after finding out the basis for the story. The term itself yields numerous search results when typed into Google, but the story is based on a true event. This is the most disturbing part of it. It was the imagery, and attention to detail, that had me shaking; the juxtaposition of scientific fact and suffering. Hearing the details of how each condition affects the body, and then seeing the reaction of the person it is happening to. In case the title didn’t give it away, Hot Potting is, essentially, about being boiled alive in a hot spring. Another tale I heard from my friend, although after trying to digest Guts that morning (excuse the pun), this was a little beyond my capacity for fully understanding.

I suppose I should really take the time to explain Haunted’s concept. Seventeen writers answer an advertisement for an Artists’ Retreat, to abandon their lives for three months, leaving behind the distractions of real life to create their magnum opus. Their finest piece of work. There are many references to the Villa Diodati throughout, and rightly so, as the retreat, the old, abandoned theatre, acts as a modern-day equivalent.  Twenty-three short stories and nineteen poems intersperse the main narrative, each of them told by one of the seventeen ‘writers’, as well as the organizer, Mr. Whittier, and his supposed assistant, Mrs. Clark. These stories explain each character’s nickname; each story becomes something of a confession, often referred to as the things the characters cannot tell anybody else, the reasons they want to disappear or the things they have done wrong.

The biggest problem with this retreat, however, is that human nature begins to set in. The writers, instead of, well, writing, each seek to become a martyr in some way or another; they plot to fake their suffering in order to gain celebrity status, telling a story of pain and hardship and getting rich while they do so. Without coordinating their plans for sabotage, however, things quickly begin to unravel.

There’s violence. Blood. Gore, Dismemberment. Cannibalism. All these terrible things that should, in theory, make them so much more loved and respected by the general public. A race develops to see who can become the most dishevelled before they are ‘rescued’. In the first week, every character (with the exception of Whittier and Clark) has managed to lop off some number of fingers and toes, or slit their nostrils, or starve themselves enough to look emaciated (Saint Gut-Free doing so effortlessly due to his six-inch intestine.) The thing that struck me immediately about this was the lengths that people will go to for some form of financial gain, and while there is always the sense that most of this is exaggerated, it’s a jarring thought. If these thoughts weren’t possible, if this was beyond consideration, it wouldn’t have made it into the book. It begs the question: what would you do in that situation? Something I hadn’t been forced to consider since I read Battle Royale.  Would greed get the better of me, to the point that I would be happy to eat the flesh of someone I’d been living with?

It’s thoughts like these that cause Haunted to be … well … haunting. I doubt that this was the initial intention, of course, but they are thoughts that stay in my mind ‘long’ after reading (I finished the book early yesterday morning, instead of taking that jog I promised myself I would), alongside the other, more demure, urge to write my own confession. My own story. A short piece based around something terrible or humiliating I’ve done in the past. The problem is, I’m really not interesting enough to do it. The only thing left is to embellish, though this is something else I feel Palahniuk is getting at. While the stories have their basis in fact, there’s a feeling that each character may be exaggerating the finer points, making their story seem more shocking by comparison, in exactly the same way as they seek to make their suffering more terrible.

Haunted could easily stand alone as a series of short stories, but I don’t feel they would have as much of an impact. I don’t think that reading Ambition and Ritual and Dissertation as stories alone, rather than having the context of the characters being in the retreat, would have made me understand them enough. I know that my mind wouldn’t be buzzing for hours after with thoughts on the true meaning of Whittier’s second story, of what was inside the Nightmare Box (trying to comprehend the explanation given), as well as working to cover everything in my mind. The simple phrases that suddenly have that much more significance by the end. The loose ends that are only tied in the futility of the characters’ actions.

Of course it’s not uncommon for something from the mind of Palahniuk to be thought-provoking; in other respects, his work is what I consider to be white-knuckle, disturbing, genuinely pushing the boundaries of what people are prepared to hear or endure. Just as Palahniuk does this to his readers, his characters within Haunted do this to themselves. The one thing to bear in mind while reading, too, is that if a character did not immediately show their true colours, if we are not immediately aware of the sometimes terrible things they have done in the past, they gradually evolve into beings with much less humanity. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, or perhaps this in itself is a comment on ‘sheep mentality’ – again, forcing me to question, if someone was butchering an unconscious person in front of my eyes, with the intent to cook and eat their flesh, would I do something about it? In some ways, the possibility that nobody decides to do anything can come across as shocking – fortunately, I’ve learned not to expect too much from people.

These scenes are replayed several times over, starting rather early in the novel. Each terrible thing that happens is transformed by the writers, the characters, into something they can utilize. Watching a person die in front of them becomes a protracted hardship that they were forced to endure by Mr. Whittier and Mrs. Clark, whom they dub their ‘devils’, creating scenes of torture that never even existed.

I wasn’t entirely surprised that many reviewers don’t consider this Palahniuk’s strongest work; for me, however, it is a definite favourite. I’ll admit, now, that I found it difficult to get through at times, though these were not the times I expected. I know that a reread is not out of the question, but it isn’t something I feel I’d be forcing, considering that I’m actually quite looking forward to that point in time. The format gripped me as it forced me out of my comfort zone somewhat, the story not being linear due to it being, essentially, a collection of short stories interspersed by a narrative running parallel to it. I didn’t find this immensely hard to follow, if I’m being honest, and didn’t find that the short stories interjected throughout the main narrative detracted from the feel of the book at all; I’m not denying that it may be very easy to get confused if you put this down for, say, a week, and come back to it at some unspecified point, but the format worked well for the amount of time I put into reading this.

Similarly, I don’t regret reading this at all, which is another gripe some reviewers have had. The practice of throwing this book at the wall seems common enough. Putting it down and never revisiting this is another, although Palahniuk actually stated that he wanted to create something ‘you don’t want to keep next to your bed,’ so on this level, mission accomplished. I’m not one of those people, though. Haunted kept me glued to almost the same spot on the sofa for hours on end because I wasn’t about to just let myself forsake it. That would mean giving up. That would mean gambling away half of the experience for the sake of my own sanity (which I honestly don’t think I had much of to begin with), which hardly even seems like a gamble at all. No, Haunted is not Fight Club, just as it isn’t Snuff, either, but this is not a gripe by any means; the wonderful thing about it is that it is a reading experience in its own right, it doesn’t need the acclaim that Fight Club brought about. It stands on its own. My personal opinion is that you don’t need to have read any of Palahniuk’s other works to read Haunted … you just need to be aware of what you’re letting yourself in for.

The Final Summary:

Make sure you haven’t eaten anything before you read Guts, and that you haven’t got something in the oven while reading Hot Potting; you most likely will never look at a bowling ball in the same way again, and will start questioning if everyone with a cold is really carrying a life-threatening disease, but other than that, you’re good to go. Haunted is not for the faint of heart,  the squeamish, the weak of stomach, but it is a worthwhile read if Palahniuk’s work interests you, or if you’re looking for something that will stay with you for a long time. Haunted is the trap door to dark places that Palahniuk wanted it to be, and in this sense, it succeeds on every level … if nothing else, it’s an effective warning to stay away from swimming pool circulation pumps, or at least not to sit on them.

A Few Links:

Haunted at The Cult [official Chuck Palahniuk Website]
‘Guts’ Short Story at The Cult [BE WARNED: not safe for work, school, children, the elderly, the squeamish, or … well, anyone who hasn’t bothered to read this review.]
‘Slumming’ Short Story at Randomhouse Publishing [BE WARNED: not as graphic as the above story, but caution is still advised.]
Haunted on Goodreads 
Haunted on Amazon.com

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Book Review: The Rum Diary

There are those books that you read, and that have an impact on you; either you empathize with the protagonist, or the events haunt you for long after you read them, or you can feel an inexplicable connection with the author. Then there are those books that you read in the blazing hot sunshine in an impossibly beautiful foreign country, where it feels as though, in a strange twist of fate, you have somehow landed yourself within the narrative. Where the sights and sounds, walking along the beach at midnight, looking up at palms and a clear blue sky and walking dry, dusty roads all seem to have spilled right from the page into reality. Where, whilst sitting poolside in the incredible heat with a cold drink in hand, you read, and read, and cannot possibly put down the book because you are trying to figure out exactly when it actually started to happen. The Rum Diary was this book for me. After reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was desperate for more Hunter S. Thompson, and finally extracted this gem from my hand luggage after boarding the plane. Within the first ten minutes, Paul Kemp was doing the same. Not … extracting The Rum Diary from his hand luggage. But he was boarding a plane, with, honestly, more hilarity than my own journey contained. (aside, perhaps, from the episode involving my mother and a lost-but-not-really-lost passport)

Undoubtedly, this has led to the book having a certain resonance for me that I have never been able to shake, not that I would want to. I can,  unashamedly, state that this is one of my favorite novels, even if Thompson himself initially had little faith in it, and some critics appear to agree. This is, perhaps, owing to its pre-Gonzo nature, and thus, is not as widely received as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – mention Hunter S. Thompson to almost anyone, and this work will be the most natural conclusion to all but those who absorb themselves in his work. The style, too, in decidedly one of a younger Thompson, but as Paul Kemp is essentially this, it is unsurprising. The unfortunate truth is that plenty of readers have put this down, and that I find this difficult to stomach, while not wanting to seem so intolerant of their opinions. There is the chance that this appeals more to me, that I enjoyed it more, because I am both a young reader and writer – approaching twenty myself (faster than it seems, I am sure), and reading something that was written by Thompson at twenty-two, is most likely going to have more of a draw for me than had I read it well into my thirties.

Ironically, this is something that underpins the entire novel. Paul Kemp’s own fear is that of going ‘over the hump’ as it were, a quality he sees clearly reflected in photographer Bob Sala. Similarly, his youth is reflected in hot-headed Yeamon, who seemingly ‘has life by the balls’ and whose girlfriend, Chenault has Kemp ‘stewing in his own lust’. It is this sense of weariness brought about in but a few short years, however, that dominates throughout; that Kemp is aware of the fact that many of the journalists around him have given up already, and that he acknowledges that he will most likely do the same gives the reader a sense of ambivalence, not towards the prose itself, but more towards the narrative.

Another overarching theme is that of ‘trouble in paradise’, that appears to permeate the entirety of the novel, right up until the point that Paul Kemp eventually leaves Puerto Rico.  Often, this is paralleled with vivid descriptions of natural beauty, conveyed in a more visceral manner, the most prevalent being the initial view of Vieques where he describes both a ‘wild desire to drive a stake in the sand and claim the place for myself’ and the need to ‘take of all my clothes and never wear them again’, both sensations elicited by the island’s natural beauty, white-as-salt sand and turquoise water. Here, he counters this with the ‘ugly chattering’ of Zimburger’s voice, which not only brings Kemp, but also the reader, back to earth, and reinforcing the idea that even the most gorgeous of landscapes can be ruined. This then takes on a more literal meaning when we learn that Zimburger has plans to redevelop the land and build a hotel on top of it. Chenault’s eventual fate, too, is at complete odds from the way in which her relationship with Yeamon is at first projected; their ‘idyllic’ moments standing waist-deep in the water and clinging to one another that cause Kemp to feel so old and frustrated, for example, as well as the way in which Kemp views her every time he encounters her. While she is supposed to come across as wild, both innocent and promiscuous simultaneously, the eventuality is that she almost seems to fade away, something perfect and beautiful that brings more heartache than joy.

I’ll take the time, here, then to say that Chenault was probably one of the characters that intrigued me most, not least because Thompson’s precision with the characters in this work is something that struck me right away. She is the exact kind of character that I have always found myself captured by; I recently read a review that argued against her being labeled a ‘whore’, and the injustice of this (unfortunately, they skirted over everything else in favor of focusing solely upon this) – I could go so far as to say that her personality shows some signs of histrionic tendencies, but I am no psychologist, and it would be presumptuous of me to say it. She’s daring, certainly. The aforementioned wildness of her character is displayed in multiple ways, from her behavior around Yeamon to her subtle and not so subtle promiscuity that seems to take root in a kind of exhibitionism rather than anything else. (sunbathing in the nude being the most vivid example) By the end, when we see her weakened, it is difficult to tell whether or not she is actually remorseful, or whether she is simply moving on through boredom, restlessness … she is described frequently as a child, or shows a plethora of childish tendencies, and so it seems only natural that she is constantly on the move, not in the same way as the many journalists are, but instead because everything suddenly seems new and exciting.

The supposed romance here is not played up to a point that it actually feels like romance. While often referred to as a ‘love triangle’ between Kemp, Yeamon and Chenault, the fact remains that there is little or no romance there at all. Initially, Kemp’s feelings towards Chenault come across as a kind of obsession – not unrequited love, but instead, the notion that he is drawn to her and wants more. The relationship between Yeamon and Chenault is somewhat reminiscent of most fleeting love affairs; undeniably sexual, and fueled by changeable personalities, restlessness, and a need for something akin to adventure. We know that they will not make it to the end of the novel together, an admission that Yeamon goes on to make in a less-than-pleasant manner, and while there is an element of wanting to root for Paul, too, there is a sense that nobody will get the girl. She’s virtually impossible to pin down; Yeamon’s temper shows quite often when dealing with her, yet she taunts him by suggesting the ‘natives’ watch her sunbathe in the nude. Kemp says nothing during these conversations in an awkward, evasive way. It is never so much a question of who deserves the girl as who is actually to blame for the events that later transpire.

As I have already stated, the voice is undoubtedly one of a younger Thompson, and yet even while reading there is some semblance of who he will grow to be, rather than who he already is; the madness I had grown used to after reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and to an extent, The Great Shark Hunt as well is strangely absent, and yet, this initially seemed to define the book for me. Once I grew accustomed to this, the experience became rather different to the ones I had had before. And, very much in spite of the fact that I was already in what I deemed paradise, it certainly inspired a need to move on further afield. In the end, this was purely limited to promising myself I would take a trip up to the pool minutes before I turned eighteen (this never happened), and having an overwhelming desire to break free of my planned route wherever we went (the actual ‘breaking free’ never happened either), but it is this that is far more prevalent. Naturally, there is the undercurrent of danger, of disappointment and of broken dreams or maddening lust. In the very same pages, there is a feeling of being in a place that is supposedly untouchable, something that is set up for a fall by pressing on with coverage of hotel development and political corruption.

In the same way, I have been attracted to characters who do things that are considered ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, or sometimes ‘evil’. As such, what might have struck me as despicable instead hits with a kind of dull impact; I found it difficult to find any character completely abhorrent, even for all their faults. There is something morbidly intriguing about Moberg, for example, especially in a particular moment of insanity where he remarks ‘once down at the jail they beat a drunk until he almost died – I asked one of the cops if I could eat a chunk of his leg before they killed him …’ all the while laughing. Striking as this may seem, he follows it with a short comment about human flesh being no more sacred than any other meat, the twisted logic almost seeming to take away any of the shock built up by the facts he has already stated. Moberg is, perhaps, the most vibrantly illustrated of all the characters, if only in his supposed insanity, however, it is this, more than anything, that comes across; more than the locale, there is a care taken with the characters. In some ways, almost all of them are exaggerated when it comes to the finer points of their being, yet I could not bring myself to look upon this negatively, if only because it made San Juan, and in particular, the San Juan Daily News seem like a breeding ground for drunks and misfits from every walk of life – the exact thing Lotterman makes clear. And virtually the very first thing we learn about Lotterman is that he is an ex-communist.

There is a distinct draw, for me, to The Rum Diary, but now I feel it only prudent to bring up something that I originally intended to at the start of this review; in part, the release of the trailer for the film adaptation of this novel caused me to make a quick decision about what my next book review would be, (I was idling between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Lunar Park) and I can only hope that I am taken back to where I was when I first read this. So far, however, multiple things have become clear, the most obvious being that very few people are willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt.

Personally, I cannot seem to make up my mind just yet. I have grown to become wary of adaptations, but I doubt that this is at all uncommon; oddly enough, most of the time, I seem to discover novels after the film adaptations have been made, (sometimes after watching, sometimes without truly knowing about it) and so, this is something of a rarity for me. There are things that I adore about this novel that the film will not capture; I doubt so much emphasis will be placed upon Chenault as a character, and instead it will come across as romance for all kinds of censorship and viewing related reasons. That said, at first glance, I have a feeling that I’ll be gripped with an urge to wear my sunglasses and swim shorts to the cinema … in spite of the fact that this the film is slated for a November release here.

The Final Summary:

Appealing to me for a variety of personal reasons, it is clear that this is an early work of Thompson’s, irrespective of publication date. This novel will demand that you read it, or want to read it, in a hot country, and later demand that you find the nearest beach and go swimming at midnight (something I wouldn’t recommend if you happen to live in the UK and it happens to be Autumn), and later make you realize that the most perfect of places, or the most perfect of moments cannot truly be perfect; this biting realism is what may cause this book to seem bleak at times and apathetic at others, but the pace is constant and like most of Thompson’s work, will have you in tumults of laughter or will leave you questioning why, how, and most importantly, what just happened. A great read for Thompson fans, even if some reviews concerning it have been disparaging.

A Few Links:

The Rum Diary on Goodreads
The Rum Diary (Film) on IMDb
Hunter S. Thompson on Amazon.com

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American Psycho: A Supposed Book Review

I’m not ignorant of the press that American Psycho has received, in spite of the fact that such press was, generally speaking, before my time. I’m not ignorant of the fact that it may seem horrific, to some, that I actually managed to read it, but then, what does that say for my psyche anyway? It would be a different matter if I sat and laughed through every page. I did not.

As with any abrupt change, the initial shift into following Bret Easton Ellis’ style was a little difficult at first, if only because I picked this up without truly knowing what to expect. In fact, my knowledge of the concept of this book was limited to begin with, and what was already there was purely superficial; I found one of Patrick Bateman’s monologues from the film adaptation five or six years ago and was both intrigued and confused by it, because of this I vaguely knew that Genesis would be referenced (and then I only knew of Genesis after picking up a copy of Disturbed’s Album ‘Ten Thousand Fists’), and after watching The Prestige, I was aware that Christian Bale played Patrick Bateman. None of this prepared me at all for what I found within the book, although reading the iconic line ‘abandon all hope, ye who enter here’ from The Divine Comedy as an opener should have given me an idea. It may only be scrawled across a wall here, but the link to Dante Alighieri’s version of Hell is blatant.

That said, there is nothing more to be said on the subject after this, and the references are, of course, brought heavily back into consumerism and yuppie culture; after all, this is essentially what American Psycho is satirizing. Even this initial literary reference seems to have little business being here, because we are in no way, shape or form supposed to believe that there is anything profound about Patrick Bateman’s lifestyle.

It is easy enough to think that this is, quite simply, just another novel about a serial killer. The brutal murder scenes are nothing short of what one might expect to experience in only the most gruesome horror, but it should not be judged on the basis of this alone; we are more than a hundred pages in before the first murder truly takes place, anyway. Women are more commonly given the blood-drenched descriptions than men, and every instance of violence is then interspersed with what one might call a version of normalcy. It is easy enough to pick the book up and flick to the first chapter that makes any reference to killing at all, looking for the ‘best bits’, but there is no point in doing so; to omit the rest of the novel would be to ignore its message in its entirety, and you would not so much be reading it as selecting the most shocking scenes one can find for personal enjoyment, and that is in essence, an insult to the novel as a whole. I feel it is also an immature way in which to handle the content, and can only lead to views formulated entirely around everything that shocks, disgusts and terrified through its explicit nature than around what should shock, disgust and terrify us for what it says about a contemporary society or sub-culture.

Ironically, these very scenes of torture and slaughter are the only ones that ever seem to be truly dragged to the forefront of the media; lines that stand out in my mind are ones like ‘a how-to manual on the torture and dismemberment of women’ and ‘people who like this book should ask themselves why they want to read pages and pages of descriptions of hacking and chopping up women (with the occasional man thrown in, but all the lavish descriptions with rats and nail guns and so on are just for the ladies)’. To me, these come across as comments born of tunnel-vision reading during which the author only took into account the black and the white; no gray shades involved. In truth, it is easy to see where such opinions can be formed – the descriptions of violence towards women are, as mentioned, much more graphic and, for lack of a better word, imaginative than those towards men for example – but of course, for people to enjoy, or simply read to begin with, there has to be something more substantial than ‘pages and pages of slaughter’. Enjoy, of course, may be rather the wrong word to use to begin with. As I mentioned before, I don’t think that these scenes were ever designed to be enjoyed.

Admittedly, the above comments riled me somewhat, not for what they say about me as a reader, but for what they say about the person that wrote them to begin with. I have asked myself why I ‘liked’ this book, although I think the correct phrasing is why I found myself intrigued or gripped by it. The fact remains that it is such a hyperbolic parallel to the culture it is satirizing that, in turn, it becomes riveting. How does Bateman survive? Contrast the visceral murders to dinner at Barcadia, and it does become more than mindless torture. It is not immediately apparent how everybody seems to overlook this one, seemingly insignificant, trait of Bateman’s because he fits in so well with the mould. I am not suggesting for one moment that anyone actually considers him a psychopath in his day-to-day life, but the slightest slips of the tongue –  ‘mergers and acquisitions’ becoming ‘murders and executions’, for example – go unnoticed because nobody around him is willing to hear it as such. There is no real difference between Patrick Bateman and Timothy Price aside from the Ralph Lauren shirt, perhaps.

Easton Ellis’ prose has already been summed up as ‘cool and unflinching’. It is, for the most part, distant and uncaring, because why would a homicidal killer care about another human being after all? When you add into the fact that Bateman has, essentially,  been conditioned to be a shallow human being to begin with, even without the homicidal tendencies, it makes even more sense. The lack of emotional engagement does not go amiss. It goes without saying that the more graphic the prose, the more prevalent Bateman’s blood lust; a chapter simply entitled Girl and involving the aforementioned rat, is one that may well have dissolved into such an explicit scene that it would have been nigh on impossible to finish is instead cut short by Bateman’s own ambivalence towards what he is doing. He admits that he grows bored of the spectacle, and as such, the scene dips away from intense brutality. Whether or not this is a bad thing is arguable; it does not give a sense that Easton Ellis is suddenly shying away from what has been present for the past two hundred pages or so – he has already established, by now, that he is not in the habit of doing so, that taming beastly scenes is not something that is going to happen – as much as we do, genuinely feel that even slaughter has gotten somewhat boring and empty.

Interestingly enough, it is the scenes where such brutality is conspicuously absent that drew my attention. Throughout the first hundred pages or so, I will openly admit that I found myself getting a little lost amidst a volley of names – Van Pattens, McDermotts, Carruthers and so on – with conversations occasionally taking a somewhat chaotic turn. This may have been down to my own shortcomings, and yet, I could not help but feel that it painted a more accurate picture than I even knew at the time. Bateman is constantly mistaken for a Marcus Halberstam by Paul Owen, and there is almost a note within these dinner-table conversations that encourages the reader to mistake Craig for Luis, who is then mistaken for David … the point being that identity is fragile, useless unless one is comparing the lettering on a business card. It is a point that in Bateman’s case, like almost everything else in the book, is taken to the extreme – while the fact that one of his early victims, Paul Owen, is supposed to have lunched with Bateman’s lawyer in London a matter of months after his disappearance could be Bateman’s saving grace, it is instead something of a sentence to eternal damnation. The final, capitalized line, ‘this is not an exit’ makes this abundantly clear.

If you’ve read far enough without dismissing this as ‘all about slicing and dicing’, and throwing it away, to notice the emphasis Bateman himself places on his appearance then I applaud you. As an amateur, I’m still aware of terms such as ‘Gary Stu’ that pop up on writing forums everywhere and anywhere, a nice enough compass to work by, but I feel the need to embellish this point. With Bateman, the good looks and charisma are taken to the same extreme as the psychopathy. It could be said that there is a prominent danger of Patrick Bateman being too good looking, too successful, too rich. He has all the elements of a character we should, then, envy, or feel is disproportionate within his own world. Not so. Everyone around Patrick Bateman is good looking, successful and rich, most of them summer in the Hamptons, have designer wardrobes and pay in excess of three hundred dollars for lunch. That danger of his character being over-saturated, then, is lost and his psychopathy, most likely does become more of a distinguishing feature than his tan body and worked muscles ever could. There is little inclination to want to know why he engages in such behaviour, either because it has already been established that there is nothing else there, or because we simply do not want to understand him. To do that would be to admit that people like him really do exist, after all. In a way, this could have contributed heavily to the initial reception of the book. Admitting, not that the content was too graphic for anyone to read, but instead that Easton Ellis was not simply inventing. That somewhere in the world, some woman had been murdered in a similar way.

The fact that this novel is ‘unfinishable except by adolescents and sociopaths’ is, again, arguable. I do not feel qualified to entirely disagree with this point – I’m nineteen, make of that what you will, I assume I am still an adolescent – although it paints a more extreme picture than is entirely necessary. Those who know me well will know that I have a fairly strong stomach when it comes to graphic depictions of violence and gore; I pin this on psychology rather than a mental deficiency of my own, after all, why should I be labelled a sociopath for simply not being that squeamish? Yet here there were more than a few moments that caused my stomach to turn. I don’t doubt that this will be the case for many more the world over, and have read a fair number of accounts that have verified this.

This, in turn, brings up a debate on whether reading American Psycho will have more of an effect on women than men. Unsurprisingly, the ‘morning after’ descriptions of Christie and Elizabeth’s mangled bodies (which provides a surprisingly accurate depiction of how they both died) and the later chapter, Girl (undoubtedly due to unsavoury use of a rat) had more of an effect on me than anything has in the past six or seven years (in terms of entertainment and media). This, and the fact that I didn’t eat cheese for a week. Not unfinishable, no, because I am not one to throw a book into a corner on the basis of one or two difficult scenes, but there is a certain degree of reason in where the above statement can be derived. If anyone has not dared to read this yet, then take it as fair warning that it is an explicit book, a fact that is unavoidable; different scenes will trigger different reactions. If you thought you had an iron stomach, or will, before this, think twice. I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone who will simply look at the brutality and torture and read it based on that, or pick up a copy and revel in the bloodletting. There is a lot more to this novel that far too many reviewers, I feel, have missed, opting instead to focus on what stares them directly in the face than what triggered such events to begin with. Thank goodness, then, for the number that read between the lines before casting their final judgements, regardless of what those judgements might be.

The Final Summary:

Enticing to some for all the wrong reasons, and not to be taken lightly no matter what the first hundred pages might suggest. This is an adult book in every sense of the word, not just for explicit content, but for looking past the explicit content. Where some books are difficult to put down for one reason, this is difficult to put down for another reason entirely; it quickly becomes difficult to tear one’s eyes away from the page in spite of the horror. Adversely, the first murder will cause a knee-jerk reaction that sees this book locked away for ever more. Regardless, this extremely well written and true-to-form, if you can stomach the sex and gore – an interesting and most definitely unconventional take on summer reading.

Oh, and a little, useless fact? I was asked for my ID when buying this book.

A Few Links:

American Psycho on Goodreads
American Psycho on Amazon
Bret Easton Ellis on Amazon
American Psycho Article on EW.com

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Book Reviews?

When considering the prospect, the very first question that sprung to mind was ‘what makes me qualified to review any published author’s work?’

The answer? Nothing. I am in no way, shape, or form qualified to review works by writers who are more accomplished than I am at all. What might give me some ground to stand on, however, is the fact that I am human, and humans generally have the ability to form opinions of the things that they experience.

Although this is primarily a blog about writing, to write about one is to write about the other. They go hand in hand, and so, I feel little or no trepidation at all when I say that I will be writing book reviews, for no-one’s amusement but my own.

This is all coming off rather badly, isn’t it? When I say my own amusement, I don’t mean that I get a kick out of being overly critical about a book I have read. I mean to say that I would prefer to share points that others the Internet over may not have highlighted, or moments that stand out for me more vividly than others. Everyone experiences literature differently. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to share it?

So, in essence, what I am saying is that, sometimes, I lack the motivation to write a thousand words or more on my own writing experiences (which in hind sight seems rather self-absorbed anyway), so instead, I’ll write about the writing of others.

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