Chuck Palahniuk writes not-very-good porn book

Posted on August 2, 2010

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Chuck Palahniuk’s managed to carve out a really good niche for himself in the world of novels. Through Fight Club, later made into one of the first really good, really popular mainstream films that felt a little bit indie, he was able to play to both the teenage-boy (“holy shit, this guy writes about fighting and boobs and swears and wants to screw the system!”)  and learned academic (“canny societal discourse couched in the basic terms that work their way into your mind”) crowds. Fight Club was actually alright: it had a sparse intensity to the language – though not nearly enough to merit being called this generation’s Hemingway, as some did – and an interesting plot about how the world was falling apart.

It ticked the boxes it needed to to be more than just a blood-and-guts novel about an underground fighting club; the social commentary made it something more; the plot made it engaging.

The problem with being so incredibly famous for writing a novel which becomes a film that acts almost as a vanguard for a generation is that you get lazy and keen to rest on your laurels. Palahniuk became the novelist of social malcontents, of the seedier side of the world. Bare knuckle anarchists killing everyone around them becomes de rigeur, and you keep going back to the same (sort of) well.

Slightly seedy, devoid of morals and involving extreme punishment and bodily fluids? Porn’s your answer. 12 years after Fight Club, Palahniuk released Snuff, whose plot Wikipedia brilliantly sums up as:

Cassie Wright, porn priestess, intends to cap her legendary career by breaking the world record for serial fornication porn movies, on camera, with six hundred men.

(For the record, I particularly like the phrase “serial fornication porn movies”.) It’s a book about a gangbang, a reworking of the Annabel Chong story with a thin veil of fictionality laid over it. But Palahniuk must have known that to just write a book about that would be lacking in interest once the priapic teenagers got past the first ten pages and realised there’s no proper sexual content in it at all, so he overlaid a story about an abandoned and adopted porn baby wanting to meet, then take revenge on, his mother.

It’s a very classical plot twist, once you take away the whole porn thing. By using it, Palahniuk seems to almost want to angle for legitimacy, as if the novel has a useful contribution to make to the world at all.

The problem is that you can tell that the novel is quickly written (phrases are recycled wholesale as if the author’s forgotten that they were used before), partly because it reads really quickly. That’s a good thing, as you don’t necessarily want to be stuck with this for long. What is the real conundrum is that Palahniuk clearly wanted Snuff to be more than just a quick potboiler, put out to capitalise on the fact that he’s famous with an added sex factor to bump up sales. He references the Duchess of Malfi and smatters umpteen highfalutin references throughout the novel.

But Snuff doesn’t reach anywhere near those heights: instead, it’s a rudderless vehicle for Palahniuk’s (sometimes funny) porn movie puns. The merciful thing is that unlike Cassie Wright’s seemingly-endless attempt to stuff 600 penises inside her, this is over quickly.

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Posted in: book review