Some of you may, or may not, know that I basically heart Chuck Palahniuk more than what probably lies in the realm of human decency.
Sure, sometimes I have a hard time remembering how to spell his last name, and yes there is the matter of that pesky little restraining order (I kid, I kid). But in short, I pretty much devour every book of his as soon as I can get my mitts on it.
However, I was somewhat resistant to reading Haunted for awhile. This is largely because instead of being just one large storyline, it breaks off into sub stories told by each of the characters. And, generally speaking, I don't usually go for 'anthology' type books, mostly because I like to have the entire novel to get to know the characters, get a feel for them. When it's a bunch of short stories I usually feel like the individual tale ends before I have gotten anywhere in the neighborhood of giving a good, and honest, damn about the characters.
Well, a pox on me for being such a ridiculous ninny! Why I thought good 'ol Chuck would fail me this time, when he never has in the past, I don't know. I'm a silly bitch.
So the essential idea of Haunted is this;
Seventeen people sign up for a three month Writer's Retreat. They are to be completely cut off from the outside world during that time, and are told that this will be the time to write the masterpiece of their career.
No real names are allowed, and everyone is allowed only one suitcase. In theory, none of the participants are in any real danger, the only real trouble is that no one is allowed to leave before the three months is up, and the retreat is below ground and remote enough that escape is highly unlikely.
The real trouble comes from the seventeen writer's realization that rather then create their own master works, they are going to gain a fortune telling their story to the outside world. Of how they were held captive, tortured, forced to survive without heat or food.
None of this is actually inflicted on the writers by the people organizing the retreat. It's the writers themselves who become their own villains, even though, for the sake of the story, they have painted the organizer and his assistant as their villains and captors. So it really isn't that surprising when the writers begin to die off one by one, and with each one who bites the dust the others don't mourn; they just discuss how they will have to split the royalties in fewer directions.
On the side of the core narrative of the goings on in the retreat, as told by an unnamed narrator. Each character has a side story, and each story has to deal with what dark secret drew them to hideout in the retreat.
As the title would suggest, each of the writers is, in fact, Haunted.
Throughout the course of the book comparisons keep being drawn between this little group of writers, shut off from the outside world, and the Villa Dioda. For those of you not in the know, this is where Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Pollidori holed up; this resulted in the writings of both Frankenstein and The Vampyre. And it's an easy enough comparison to draw, and, more than likely, since it is Palahniuk who gives us this parallel, that this was in fact what inspired him to write Haunted.
However, this is really not the comparison that most came to mind for me whilst I was reading this novel. Throughout the whole thing I could not help but be reminded of Jean-Paul Sarte's No Exit, and it's chilling, most infamous line:
Hell is other people.
For those of you unfamiliar with Sarte's work, No Exit is about three completely unrelated people who die and end up locked in a room together. After a bit they realize that they are in Hell and each one speculates on who is the torturer and what torment they will receive. It soon becomes evident that there isn't a torturer, it's just the three of them, locked in a room together, for all of eternity. The only torment stems from the way they treat each other. Which leads to the one character's realization that "Hell is other people".
And, considering that all the harm that comes to the players of Haunted comes from themselves, is it any wonder that No Exit was the first thing that came to mind? I didn't think so.
Do I recommend Haunted, yes, but NOT IF YOU HAVE A WEAK STOMACH. This novel is really quite grisly at points, considering one of the short stories called Guts, Palahniuk read aloud and reportedly has had multiple faint from listening to it. Also it was a story controversial enough that it got a Highschool teacher sacked for having his students read it.
So really, bare that in mind, and I don't even think that it's the most disturbing part of the book. HOWEVER if that is something that you can get past it's a GREAT book, not my favorite of his works, but still pretty damn amazing in this girl's opinion.
Okay, so there you have it.
Kisses and hugs.