Chuck Palahniuk tells such stark tales that people faint at his readings. Doug Johnstone crosses his legs, girds his loins and chats to the guru of gore
t seems I‘ve caught (‘huck Palahniuk in the
middle of something. ‘Right now I‘m trying
to get all the blow—up dolls packaged and shipped to lidinburgh.‘ he laughs down the phone from his home in Vancouver. Washington. Sorry. what‘.’ Sadly. the author is being no more forthcoming. but it‘s safe to say that anyone attending his Book Festival event will not be in for a conventional hour’s literary entertainment. ‘Many folks who come and see me have never been to an author event before. so I want to make sure their first event is everything I can give them.’ Palahniuk explains. “I‘ll be doing as many things as I can cram into the time limit.~
()ne of those things might be making people faint. The American author best known for 1996's Fight (‘luh often likes to read a short story called ‘(itlts'. about a masturbating accident. which so far has managed to make a total of 73 people pass out on hearing it. ‘I also have a linger story. based on a friend of mine who had an industrial accident.~ Palahniuk laughs. ‘And that‘s been giving ‘(iuts’ a run for its money recently.”
As for the blow—up dolls. they might have something to do with the author‘s ninth novel. Snuff. due out just before his appearance in lidinburgh. For fans of the transgressional novelist's work it won‘t disappoint. The action takes places over one day. as a fading porn actress. Cassie Wright. attempts to break the world gang-bang record by sleeping with 600 men in a row. The story is told from the green room. packed with naked men waiting their turn. and the perspective switches between three of them — Mr (300. Mr 72 and Mr I37 — to Sheila. the production assistant given the task of wrangling all these lubed-up guys into order.
It‘s safe to assume we‘re not in Alexander McCall Smith territory here. Snuﬂ’is outrageous and controversial. sure. but it‘s also beautifully crafted. full of literary intent and often laugh- out-loud funny. There is a running joke about pom film titles (luy Misty I‘in‘ Me. The Italian Hand Job. etc). as well as some powerful comment on the vacuousness of modern American society. Stud/certainly doesn‘t glamourise the porn industry. as Mr I37 says at one point: ‘l’orn is a job you only take after you abandon all hope'.
So did Palahniuk have his opinion of the industry changed by writing the book‘.’ “I used to think porn was exciting.‘ he says. ‘Now. I think porn functions like at bedtime story for adults. because it‘s short. kind ofexciting. and it always. always ends the same way. There is the ultimate comfort of knowing this thing is not
going to end any differently no matter what happens before the ending.'
.S'nuﬂ‘doesn't exactly end happily ever after. but there is a faint glimmer of hope for the book's damaged characters by the time the final. shocking denouement arrives. The character of (‘assic Wright is partly based on retired porn actress Annabel (‘hong. who
notoriously set a world record gang-bang of
25| sex acts. claiming it was empowering women. before it was subsequently revealed she'd been gang raped earlier in life.
‘In a way it is empowering for Cassie. but not in the way she thinks.’ Palahniuk explains. ‘Because she‘s making the choice to destroy who she is. with the idea of providing something better for those she leaves behind. In the end she does that. but not in the way she anticipated.‘ Smdfclocks in at l‘)7 pages. and is a compulsive read from start to finish. According to the author. its brevity and style was a direct reaction to his last novel. Rant. a more complex and sprawling but equally compelling read.
‘I try to do one more extreme then a less extreme book.‘ he says. ‘Runt was less extreme. so with Small could do everything I wanted to do. I didn't have to hold back. Rant was so long. I was determined to write another book like light ( 'lul) where I can do the whole thing in six weeks and make a party out of it. I swore too that I would never write another book over 2()() pages. that‘s my new goal.~
l’or now. Fig/it ('lul) remains the book Palahniuk is best known for. but that may well soon change. Various other novels are in production as movies with (‘lm/w. about a sex- addicted conman. out in September. Not that Palahniuk cares what his legacy as a writer is going to be. ‘I really don‘t give a fuck about my legacy.‘ he laughs. ‘()h my god. I wish writers would write with the idea that the book is going to be thrown away in a couple of years. or a couple of weeks. The literary world takes itself way too seriously.’
Chuck Palahniuk, 16 Aug, 8pm, £9 (£7); Doug Johnstone 8. Toby Litt, 16 Aug, 8.30pm, £9 (£7).
’ EXPRESS ' YOURSELF
Snuff love ‘
Kate Gould ﬁnds Lisa Appignanesi on good form as she discusses the history of health and the future of censorship
Campaigner, novelist, President of English PEN, memoirist. biographer. and historian: Lisa Appignanesi is a woman of many passions. As a historian. her extraordinary Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 7800 to the Present. took on the psychiatric profession and its treatment of female patients. Written with eloquence and a passion for her subject that is palpable. it should be required reading for both medical students and those already practicing in the field.
‘I've long been interested in the vagaries of the inner life. its excesses — madness. badness and sadness — and all the states in between,‘ explains Appignanesi. ‘We are in the grip of a colonising system of psychiatric classification which draws narrow brackets around the “normal” and finds illness patterns in too wide a range of our inner experience and social behaviour. But we are also far readier to give our unhappiness a medical name. so that we do indeed suffer from a whole array of madness and sadness.’
As President of English PEN. she led their campaign against the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill arguing that ‘offense was an emotion it is easy to feel. but the only safeguard for a plurality of belief and non belief was free speech. Laws curbing free speech inevitany chill expression: they work their way into publishing and the media. all of whom prefer. at the advice of a retinue of lawyers. to err on the side of caution. It‘s easier to censor and eventually to self-censor than to go to court. Satire. imaginative writing and investigative journalism are the first victims. A general impoverishment of the culture as a whole gradually ensues.‘
This autumn. PEN launches a campaign against ‘libel tourism‘. a practice in which the rich and powerful clamp down on publications which they see as affecting their reputation. even if it often exposes their corrupt ways. ‘The libel laws need to be re-thought.‘ says Appignanesi. ‘In particular, the burden of proof needs to fall on the side of the plaintiff seeking to adjust the purported assault on his reputation. not on the defendant. the writer. Otherwise we'll find people from despotic regimes selling our own agenda of what it is permissible to say which might eventually be very little indeed.‘
I Use Appignanesi. I7 Aug, 5pm, L9 (L7); Freedom of Express/on, 77 Aug, 7pm, £9 (E 7).
1.4- 91 Aug 2008 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 1 ‘I