Book Club: Damned

“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison. I’m just now arrived here, in Hell, but it’s not my fault except maybe dying from an overdose of marijuana. Maybe I’m in Hell because I’m fat – a Real Porker. If you can go to Hell for having low self-esteem, that’s why I’m here. I wish I could lie and tell you I’m bone-thin with blonde hair and big ta-tas. But trust me, I’m fat for a really good reason. To start with, please let me introduce myself…”

Quite an introduction don’t you think? Chuck Palahniuk has done well in grabbing my attention to what was a Christmas present – otherwise it may well have lay untouched for a few years, put aside for others. I must say I was surprised at firstly, this choice of my brother to give to me, and secondly, how quickly I warmed to Madison, a 13-year-old dead who has found herself in Hell, and is, to be quite honest, a bit of a know-it-all.

This satire was different because although so much of the commentary was on this fictional view of Hell, what Palahniuk has done is comment, rather successfully, on present day Earth. As Madison describes why she might have been there, and then starts to explore her new surroundings, there are some amusing statements about life here on Earth. For example, her parents being publicly very outspoken about the ecological green duties, sending her to a camp to learn about the Earth and our responsibility on it, where she is surrounded by children of rich parents all flown in on private jets. The irony is infectious as it causes you to smirk and laugh at the ridiculous concepts we see all around us. Whether it be the rumours of popular “Harlot Von Harlotty” teenager girls at a Swiss boarding school, or the feelings towards the bad-boy rebel, adopted children from third-world war-stricken countries, or even the Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm (which has been continually flooding more and more of Hell at speedy pace since the internet and porn industry flourished), this book allows us to laugh at ourselves, our world. Damned has taken what is normally considered a serious subject of Hell, and allowed itself to instead look at how our earthly actions might affect this fictional landscape.

For those who haven’t read it, I’d recommend to at least give it a chance. If you need a few credentials to support this idea, you should know that Chuck Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club. Madison, Hell’s commentator, is very willing to give you some tips and even invite you to join her, so you can at the very least listen to what she has to say – she might surprise you.

SPOILER ALERT! FROM THIS POINT ON I WILL BE DISCUSSING THE FULL BOOK, AND THIS MAY WELL GIVE YOU MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW HAVING NOT READ THE BOOK YOURSELF. YOU WERE WARNED!

ONCE AGAIN: SPOILER ALERT!

My husband was not so sure about this obsession of mine as I’ve been reading it the past couple of weeks. I would read parts aloud to him and he’d mutter “strange”, “weird book” or just glance at me to imply “why are you reading this again?”. I put that mostly down to the fact that he, himself, was not experiencing the great amount of character development that I read through. Madison is a 13-year-old, but gradually she develops, which is perhaps the last thing you thought she might do in Hell as a dead person. She is sarcastic, intelligent and not unwilling to tell you not to underestimate her.

Her story stretches from a few loose stories around her life and death, but slowly you are trusted with the full picture. She is, despite her eternal situation, still hopeful and describes to Satan that she apologizes for this habit but it’s just part of her. Her Breakfast Club companions walk with her past sights which are now so easy to imagine, and yet I wish I couldn’t imagine them. The least being the mountains of toe- and fingernail clippings, ranging to possibly the worst with the Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions where by the end sit Hitler and a few more of Madison’s defeated enemies.

It is the development which led to possibly my favourite part of the book: Madison, having been coaxed into a little more badass rebellion by her friend Archibald  Merlin Archer (known as Archer), decides to take on Hell. First goes Hitler, de-moustached (she keeps it as a souvenir), taking his Nazi followers behind her. This act is swiftly followed by Catherine de Medicis, Caligula, Vlad III (the Impaler), Bluebeard, and the list goes on, collecting candy all the way like some terrible toddler at Halloween taking on fellow trick-or-treaters. It is this sudden take-over which let my husband in on the joke, and made me finish the book in the morning hours before work.

The final twist, Satan being the author of Madison, finally pulls the reader into her Bass Weejun shoes, because really who can trust Satan? Does she believe that he is her creator, or put it down to the Prince of Lies messing with her head? This sudden turn changed things a little as you ask: “If he telling the truth (and why would he do that?), what is the point, the purpose of her? AND If he’s not telling the truth does the option of Madison’s freedom to heaven still exist, or even better, could she take on Hell and create a heaven.. or at least a decent habitat?”

These questions, it turns out, are Palahniuk’s final trick (or Satan’s… he is supposed to be the author after all..) is the final words: “To be continued”. Even so, I feel I can forgive him for this annoying finish because truly I think I would enjoy a second chapter, a second glance at this spunky 13-year-old, empowered to take on the devil. I mean, if you were there, wouldn’t you want to at least give him a bit of kick too?

How about you? Have you read Damned? What did you think? I would some companions in my little book club.

A Picture of author Chuck Palahniuk I made - By Charlotte Espley

Thanks must go to Rob McAllister, my brother and creative-writing genius.
Maybe, hopefully, I’ll be reviewing one of his books soon. 

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