Damned by Chuck Palahniuk – Reviewed by Guy Portman
The protagonist is thirteen-year-old Madison, the daughter of wealthy alternative parents. The privileged Madison studies at an exclusive Swiss boarding school and spends her holidays alternating between a number of her family’s multitude of international homes. That is until Madison dies of a marijuana overdose and finds herself languishing in hell.
Palahniuk’s vision of hell is like none that we have probably previously imagined. A netherworld of nail-filings, littered with an abundance of candies, populated by various demons, the landscape interspersed with such notable geographical features as Shit Lake, Dandruff Desert and The Swamp of Partial Birth Abortions. Madison and a group of other sinners, including the rebellious, blue-mohawk sporting dead punk, Archer, and the fashion conscious Babette, find themselves traversing through hell. The story follows their adventures as Madison seeks to discover herself and to gain an understanding of the exact nature of her death. Along the way she becomes an unlikely leader for an ever growing band of damned reprobates.
Palahniuk is notorious for his vivid imagination and it is on display in abundance throughout Damned. Examples range from the humorous mention of telemarketing and internet pornography being the dominant industries in hell to the vile descriptions of the demons and the details of the minor transgressions that can result in eternal damnation, such as dropping a certain number of cigarette butts during one’s lifetime.
Damned is in essence an entertaining satire of hell, which continues in the same vein as Dante’s Inferno, only written in a lighthearted style, punctuated with comical details, pop-culture references and Theological irony. Though not as disturbing as some of Palahniuk’s other works, Haunted being a prime example, Damned contains numerous potentially offensive details and at times is both graphic and disturbing. A number of themes are explored in the book, principally that there are no heavens and hells, only our opinions of a given place, which are based merely on our own expectations.