July 13th, 2012


Book Review: Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk

Dante and Virgil are replaced by super-annoying teenagers in this satirical romp through hell.


Jonathan Cape, 2011, 247 pages

“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison,” declares the whip-tongued 13-year-old narrator of Damned, Chuck Palahniuk’s subversive new work of fiction.

The daughter of a narcissistic film star and a billionaire, Madison is abandoned at her Swiss boarding school over Christmas, while her parents are off touting their new projects and adopting more orphans. She dies over the holiday of a marijuana overdose—and the next thing she knows, she’s in Hell. Madison shares her cell with a motley crew of young sinners that is almost too good to be true: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker, united by fate to form the six-feet-under version of everyone’s favorite detention movie.

Madison and her pals trek across the Dandruff Desert and climb the treacherous Mountain of Toenail Clippings to confront Satan in his citadel. All the popcorn balls and wax lips that serve as the currency of Hell won’t buy them off.

This is the afterlife as only Chuck Palahniuk could imagine it: a twisted inferno where The English Patient plays on endless repeat, roaming demons devour sinners limb by limb, and the damned interrupt your dinner from their sweltering call center to hardsell you Hell. He makes eternal torment, well, simply divine.

Collapse )

Verdict: Palahniuk is an acquired taste, I guess. I do like his prose, I just have yet to really love his books and Madison — fat, self-absorbed, acid-tongued daughter of horrible Hollywood celebrities, an infernally bratty 13-year-old girl damned to hell and determined to stay there — is the first of his characters I've actually liked. If you read Damned as a fantasy novel about a girl who goes to hell, it's kind of stupid. If you read it as a bizarre modern allegory, you'll probably appreciate it to the degree that you appreciate Chuck Palahniuk's sense of humor and the hobby horses he's riding.

Also by Chuck Palahniuk: My review of Diary.

My complete list of book reviews.