Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

I went through a stage of reading lots of Chuck Palahniuk novels back to back, until I got burnt out and forgot about him. Last month, when I was feeling mainly underwhelmed about my reading selection I thought it was about time I gave him another go, so promptly ordered Invisible Monsters from the library. Of course it took a little while to arrive.

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters, review, plot summary, transgender, model, literature, American, book, paperback, photograph,

The Plot: Successful model Shannon has been disfigured and left unable to speak after been shot in the face. Whilst in recovery Shannon is befriend by Brandy Alexander, who is one operation away from completing her gender reassignment surgery. Together with malleable Seth Thomas, the three go on a cross country road trip, funded by stealing prescription medicine from high-end estates. Unable to talk, Shannon recollects on her upbringing, seething on her parents preferential treatment towards her brother, and plotting revenge on fellow model and frenemy Evie.

Rating: «««¶¶ (3/5)

For those of you who don't know, Chuck Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club (the first rule of fight club...) and all his novels are really quite odd. His characters are unconventional, a pornstar, a cult member and a homicidal estate agent are some of his creations I can remember from previous novels. His novels always in danger of tipping to far into extreme weirdness, sometimes it seems to me his characters and ideas are the result of a random generator. I've seen other reviewers refer to Palahniuk as 'zany', a word that I detest.  A book like Invisible Monster will divide opinions and I would be hesitant to recommended it to people, as I could imagine it getting on people's nerves. Plus, I don't think it's his strongest novel, I preferred Choke and Survivor.

Invisible Monster also has some problems when is comes to Brandy Alexanders gender and and is verging of transphobic. For example the blurb Brandy Alexander, Queen Supreme, one operation away from becoming a real woman', it is offensive to trans* people that the 'realness' of their gender is dependant on their genitals. Also Brandy's reasons for wanting surgery didn't sit right with me, it seemed by having the character almost impulsively have gender reassignment surgery made a mockery of the very real struggle people face getting access to transformation operations. There was also a preoccupation with Brandy's chest, whenever she was mentioned there was reference to her boobs, it was unnecessary and was just included to underscore the point that she's trans. As there are so few representations of trans* people in literature, I do think it's important to get it right, instead of using these characters as a sort of freakshow.  
Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters, review, plot summary, transgender, model, literature, American, book, paperback, photograph,

Though the transmisogyny is a major flaw in Invisible Monsters and should be acknowledged and read critically, the novel does have some good points. Like many of his novels, Invisible Monsters is written in medias res, it starts the story from a  midpoint and then is unravelled using a non-linear time-frame. There is a risk that by using this technique there will be no suspense, as the reader already know what is going to happen, but Palahniuk is talented and there is still plenty of surprises and revelations.   

At it's heart the novel is about reinvention. Shannon's life is transformed by her accident, and Brandy Alexander is constantly inventing new identities for them both. Though the characters are both damaged and troubled, there is a positive message in the novel, people have the capacity to change, to regenerate and let go of the past.  

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