Book Review: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk (2011)

Release: 1 September 2015
Release: 1 September 2011

Over the years I have read a few Chuck Palahniuk novels, but none really stuck with me. They were all enjoyable, but I never really loved any of them. Each one was interesting and usually quite fun, but somehow there was always something that left me a little dissatisfied. Choke is probably my favorite of his, though I’ve also read Fight Club, Rant, Lullaby and Invisible Monsters. All of these books were an easy and enjoyable enough read and my newest foray into Palahniuk is no different. Damned is interesting enough and surprisingly fun, but ultimately I feel indifferent after putting it down. It is an excellent book for the casual reader, but fails to be anything deeper than quick entertainment. I enjoy books for their entertainment value, but what really sticks with me are the novels that challenge me or leave me thinking about them for weeks or even years later.

I wasn’t too intrigued by the plot synopsis, and probably wouldn’t have read Damned had it not been for the accidental discovery of a sale on used English novels in Tokyo. There, hidden in the stacks, was Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk. The description sounded interesting; I love a good ghost story, even from the perspective of the ghost. When I started reading it I realized somethings weren’t lining up. Often a book will reference events that will be elaborated on later, but this seemed like a sequel. Sure enough, a quick check on goodreads would reveal it as Doomed (Damned Part 2). The book was already purchased, so I had no choice but to read the less intriguing sounding predecessor.

Damned is the tale of young girls “adventures” in hell. She starts off dead, and we get the treat of reading about her new life in hell. How she died sounds silly, but we are never expected to believe her explanation. She is only 13 and acts like a 13 year old, usually. This is the point that makes her character particularly annoying. She often references her advanced vocabulary with a snarky comment about how she maybe 13 and dead but she’s not a complete idiot. While this is fine, it grows tiresome as she repeats this over and over again on a chapter by chapter basis. This is just one way in which she can irritate the readers, there are others but I feel they are far more subjective gripes.

The other characters occupying hell are far more interesting and I found myself continuing forward not out of interest in Madison’s story, but in Palahniuk’s descriptions of hell and her new companions’ stories. Every time the story reverted back to Madison’s life, I was put-off. Skipping ahead was tempting, but fearing I’d miss something important, I continued on. The story never really seems to have any clear direction and it seems to be a bit like the characters are just wandering through hell. Hell seems horrible, but in a fun cartoonish sort of way. The tortures are no doubt gruesome, but we never really glimpse any horror or tension. After wandering through different horrifying places with horrifying monsters we get some closure in the reveal of Madison’s cause of death and then the book just sort of ends. It was a fun ride, but much of the journey feels a bit pointless.

Chuck Palahniuk has admitted writing this book as way of dealing with the death of his mother. It seems reasonable to me that he would develop a hell that stereotypically horrifying, but somehow charming. There could be some solace in presenting hell as horrible but tolerable, not to mention filled with wonderful characters who are equally doomed to its torments. It’s a bit of misery loves company. I even have my suspicions that horned devil himself is an attempt of Chuck Palahniuk trying to place himself into the story. I might be wrong, but it seems to makes sense to me. Death can be much more tolerable with the optimism of seeing loved ones and making new friends, maybe that is the point.

If you want a light read with some fun and intriguing aspects, then pick up Damned. The main character can be a bit irritating, but her friends are quite lovable. Palahniuk’s depiction of hell is worth the read in itself. The story clocks in at only 247 pages, so pick it up for a light read. I’d give it about 3 out 5 stars.

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