Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk was written after Fight Club and reads more like a fashion magazine than a novel.
Transsexualism. Models. Riches. Shotguns. Makeup. Drugs. Disfigurement. Fire. Sexually transmitted disease. Estrogen. Real Estate. Weddings. Homosexuality. High Fashion. There’s only one book that has it all from practically the first page – and that’s Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Invisible Monsters’.
Invisible Monsters was published in 1999 by the well-known author of Fight Club and Choke, both of which have been adapted for film. In his biography, Palahniuk let slip that Invisible Monsters was supposed to be his first published novel but publishers backed out on the grounds that it was too disturbing.
In retaliation, Palahniuk sat down and wrote Fight Club in an effort to come up with something even more disturbing. To his surprise, the publishers loved Fight Club and published it almost immediately. Though the novel didn’t do well initially, the success of the movie adaptation gained Palahniuk a large and loyal fan base. Once that happened, the publishers grew some balls and put a revised edition of Invisible Monsters into print.
Upon reading the aforementioned trivia snippet, it was hard for me to imagine how much more unsettling than Fight Club Palahniuk’s first book could have possibly been. Well, that was until I considered that 35 people are said to have fainted at a reading of one of his short stories, titled Guts. If there’s one thing Palahniuk seems to have a knack for, it’s writing beautifully perturbing stories.
The plot of Invisible Monsters revolves around a fashion model crippled by a horrific accident that leaves her horribly disfigured and unable to speak. Depressed by her post-accident disability, she finds solace in the company of Brandy Alexander, a pre-op transsexual who teaches her about redemption, recovery, rebirth, rescue and the very unlikely forms they may take.
Palahniuk makes sure that readers will understand what they are in for from the very first page. Hold your breath – you’ll be thrust into wild action that’ll put you on edge from the start. The ensuing chain of events will keep you guessing, and so enthralled you won’t be able to stop turning the pages. I finished the book in half a day, not even taking breaks for meals.
It’s also worth mentioning that the second chapter starts with a warning. “Don’t expect this to be the kind of story that goes: and then, and then, and then.” Actually, as Palahniuk himself points out, the novel runs more like a fashion magazine. We’re reminded of VOGUE, with article interrupted by advertisement after advertisement and constant jumps from one story to the next. Though other authors might not be able to it pull off, Palahniuk does it beautifully – he’s a man fully at home with structured chaos. Fast-paced and exciting, Invisible Monsters never becomes confusing.
Palahniuk is often cited as being a ‘burn the system down’ cynic and nihilist. So what’s the overall tone and message of Invisible Monsters? I found it hugely inspiring – and in such a different and off-beat way. The plot may be morbid, but it has real beauty to it. Palahniuk simply loves people and details, and every page throws up insights not only to into the inner workings of the characaters (and you’d be hard-pushed to find a more profound yet fashionable bunch) but also to life itself. And his poetically sculpted descriptions of even the smallest aspects of the tale shine through.
In fact, Palahniuk has such a way with words that you won’t just be reading Invisible Monsters, you’ll be seeing it unfold in vivid pictures before you, like a film – which, depending on the scene, can be an incredibly good thing or an incredibly scary one.
The End: You know how novels have an unfortunate tendency to be amazing reads – right until you get to the disappointing end? Not so with Invisible Monsters. What a shocking, touching finale! After finishing it, I felt both exhausted and incredibly stimulated and inspired, something that I really wouldn’t have expected a book to be able to achieve.
Final Thoughts: Invisible Monsters in an incredibly fast-paced, profound and moving novel. From the first couple of pages you’ll be mesmerised by complex characters, motives and plot twists. It’ll do what all good art should accomplish: it’ll make you think.
And if cinema is more your thing, a film adaptation is supposedly slated for release in 2010. Let’s hope it will do this inspiring and morbidly beautiful novel justice.
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