By Susan Tomaselli
Eighteen people, responding to an advert, leave the humdrum behind and enter a writers’ retreat for three months to write their masterpieces. Haunted comprises these 23 tales, along with accompanying poems, with the novel held together by an unknown voice(s), told in Palahniuk’s flat, addictive mantra style. Taking acknowledged inspiration from Poe and the Villa Diodati (where Percy and Mary Shelley contrived with Byron to scare the hell out of each other with ghostly tales, one being Frankenstein), the characters sabotage the retreat, turn on themselves then each other, trying to maximise their potential victimhood before their release to the outside world.
Some of the tales can be read as stand-alone stories of the macabre, with food as a recurring theme. Characters are grotesque labels rather than named and there are some stories to be admired. A story called ‘Guts’ leads the proceedings, but assassin foot masseurs, the critic killer, Breather Betty, ‘Cassandra’ and the ‘Nightmare Box’ distract from the truely vile.
Unacknowleged influences include Agatha Christie (yes, really) and Scarlett Thomas who explored reality TV celebrity long before Palahniuk in her novel Bright Young Things, in which her characters respond to an advert, take off for an island isolated from civilisation, only to slowly realise they are left stranded at the mercy of a eminense grise manipulating their worst fears. Sound familiar?
Big Brother, the X-Files, self-mutilation, screeds against consumerism: Palahniuk is a sponge soaking up modern culture, themes handled well in previous works including Fight Club, Invisible Monsters and Survivor but with Haunted there is the sense of a writer over-saturated. The author himself seems to hint at this: “some stories, you tell them and you use them up. Other stories, they use you up.” Ultimately, Haunted reads like the work of a writer disillusioned with the game, fed-up with criticism and some-what spent.
People looking for one idea that would echo for the rest of time. Echo into books, movies, plays, songs, television, T-shirts, money.
Haunted, A Novel of Stories by Chuck Palahniuk