Doomed, by Chuck Palahniuk

Review published on January 7, 2015. Reviewed by Ian Simpson

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

There will always be stories about the chosen one. The chosen one to love. The chosen one to save us. The chosen one to bring about the apocalypse. Chuck Palahniuk introduces us to Madison, who has been chosen. By whom and what for? Read on, Gentle Tweeter.

Madison is dead. Which in her case is no bad thing. It means she can write a blog about her life and death, which is meant to be read by her followers in Hell, who Tweet comments and questions at her while she narrates. Madison Spencer first appeared in Palahniuk’s previous novel Damned, in which she died and worked as a telemarketer in Hell. She had celebrity parents who pretty much ruled the world; a bit like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie if Pitt was more of a Richard Branson type. So in Doomed, Madison escapes – albeit accidently – from Hell but is forced to haunt her parents in a kind of purgatory. Except most of this novel is her backstory. Tales of her early childhood as a celebrity accessory. Tales of her being shipped off to her grandparents and how they died. We find out just why she was damned in the first place. Finally, as she’s brought before her parents and their worshipers (they’ve started a new religion, Boorism, based on a telephone call and an off-hand comment Madison made in the first book), she reveals herself to them, but we find out she’s also part of a bigger master plan. Is she the saviour of mankind or its destroyer?

Palahniuk isn’t for everyone. Certainly not for the easily offended. He doesn’t skimp on the descriptions when Bad Things happen. And Bad Things happen quite a bit in this novel. There’s no holding back in terms of drugs, death and rebirth, sexual depravity and the rest. He tempers it in many instances using the eyes of a pre-teen innocent Madison before she died. So the language he uses is childish, which gives it a grimmer, grimier edge. The themes of Palahniuk’s book are familiar enough. Anti-consumerism, anti-celebrity and anti-religion. Although one might say this is a classic heaven versus hell type horror story. Except it’s not really a horror, but an all-American satire (of course), despite being horrific throughout. There’s nothing wrong with his prose or his characterisation, but in terms of narrative – in terms of actual story – Doomed is a bit of a let-down. Not a whole lot happens. The conceit (Madison blogging to her loyal followers in Hell) and the running gags (Ctrl+Alt+Borednow) are of primary importance. Secondary is a kind of how-we-got-here. The actual plot, in which various deceased and living folks end up in what is called Madlantis in some kind of Heaven’s Gate scenario, takes so much of a back seat by the time it arrived it seemed a bit of an anti-climax.
I liked Madison as a character; a literature-loving chubby antithesis to her parent’s world, demanding a kitten and talking to (pretend) Jesus on the phone, while decrying her Swiss finishing school and her parent’s transient existence. The idea of her committing her atrocity with a copy of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle is inspired. Of course, there’s much to admire in Doomed; wit, imagination and an outré verve rare in modern novelists. His cutting one-liners (his version of the Catholic confession) for example brought a knowing smile. Descriptions of Madison’s post-death grandparents are far grimmer. He is a master of this dark art.

If one is in tune with Palahnuik’s sensibilities and approve of his satirical attacks, which I am, reading Doomed still feels like being hit repeatedly over the head with a large baseball bat which says ‘everything is wrong’ on it. Madison might be the voice-piece but the sentiment is definitely that of the author. Using the Gentle Tweeter conceit, he is talking to us: the (dead/postalive) reader. Fans of Palahnuik will get something out of this novel, just not a lot of story.

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