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Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk - this is a book for adults and contains adult themes.
Cassie Wright is an ageing Porn Star who is determined to go out in glory by setting the world record for the "biggest Gang Bang in history" by having consecutive sex with 600 men in one day. If this was not enough Cassie Wright wants to actually die on film in the process. The story centres around this fateful day with most of the action taking place in the queue to be a part of "World Whore 3"
I am a big Chuck Palahniuk fan and yet again he is a writer that does not disappoint. Given the subject matter I did not think that Snuff would be the type of book I would enjoy and despite being a Palahniuk fan I was apprehensive that this particular foray into the grotesque would be one step too far.I was expecting to find a hardcore novella that I would put down after the first few chapters but this was not the case at all. Despite the subject matter scenes of sex are very few and far between and the grotesqueness of the piece comes more from the seediness of the situation and the men waiting their turn to be a part of the biggest gang bang in history. The novel touches on really dark themes of rape, incest, death and venereal disease which is not for the light hearted. This is in no way a sexy book in fact it may have the effect of putting you off for a while.
The narrative structure of the book is intriguing that it is told from the alternating point of view of four characters. The 3 male characters all waiting in line to be a part of the biggest gang bang in history and are referred to by the numbers they are given Number 72 (a young 20 year old), Number 137 (a washed up TV star hitting rock bottom due to a sex scandal) Number 600 (an aged porn star doing a favour for an old friend). The female protagonist Sheila is the "wrangler" who has organised the whole thing. We never hear from Cassie herself and it is only through the eyes of the other characters that her story is revealed. It was hard to decided whether the men were despicable or pathetic and for me it was confusing to remember who was who between numbers 600 and 137.
Palahniuk is an amazing writer when it comes to evoking the environment of the story - almost too good I would say given that the novel is set in a basement with 600 naked sweaty men and only 1 toilet . The repulsion of what is happening is not lost in the writing. Whilst reading I could almost smell the stench of the greasy men plastering on false tan and baby oil not to mention the over flowing toilet and cheap greasy snacks on the buffet table - YUCK! The novel is full of Palahniuks dark humour not least in the names he invents for the porn films Cassie Wright has previously starred in "To Drill a Mockingbird", "Chitty Chitty Gang Bang" and "A Midsummer Night's Ream" to name a few. I also really enjoyed the little bits of movie trivia he drops in here and there - who knew that the reason Marilyn Monroe suffered illness all her life was due to her propensity to lie in ice baths to achieve pert breasts and bottom.
This is by no way one of my favourite Chuck Palahniuk novels and unfortunately I feel that it did suffer from being a little too short (if you can stomach it you can finish it in a few hours) as plot twists were revealed too quickly and the characters could have been explored further. That said it is still far above many of the other novels I have read this year.
This book is not for the fainted hearted as there is a lot of graphic language and the whole situation is pretty seedy. The edition that I have has a cover with the word Snuff plastered across it with a suggestive picture of a blond women holding what looks like a sex aid to her mouth so this is probably not something I would read on the bus. If however like myself you are a Chuck Palahniuk fan you will know what to expect and will not be disappointed.
Chuck Palahniuk is not a man to shy away from the controversial and grotesque (I recommend, if that's the right word, reading his short story 'guts' if you dare). So it seems fitting for him to write a book about pornography. There are themes of confused incest, betrayal, embarrassment, prejudice, and a lot of reference to realising or not realising when you have become old and tired.
The book is set in one room, a waiting room for 600 men, all waiting to be part of a huge pornographic record, being on screen and engaging in a sex act with Cassie Wright, a porn priestess, coming to the end of her career and going out with a bang.
The story is told from 4 perspectives, Mr. 72, Mr. 137, Mr. 600 (a teenager, a washed up television actor embroiled in a gay sex scandal, a famous porn actor doing a favour for an old friend) and Sheila the female organiser or 'talent wrangler' for the event.
I can't help but feel that because of the fairly narrow time span and location of this book, Palahniuk's normal story telling techniques are not implemented as well here.
For example, without trying to spoil anything, one of the book's twists although not directly obvious, is softened slightly by the way that the red herring is spelled out to us and repeated so many times it seems patronising and underestimates the intelligence of Chuck's many readers and fans.
However the narrative style keeps the book very engaging and for me meant I could not put it down until I had finished it (the book is rather short). The way the characters are explored through their reactions and opinions of each other is very interesting to read, and makes this book a very good read.