Fiction - paperback; Vintage; 208 pages; 2009. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
I'll be perfectly frank: I did not expect to like Chuck Palahniuk's latest paperback release because of the sordid subject matter. I wasn't sure I would be entirely comfortable reading about an aging porn star attempting to break the world record for serial fornication with 600 men on camera.
But Palahniuk delivers such an extraordinarily funny story that you can't help but laugh your way through it. And before long you realise that this isn't a novel glorifying pornography. If anything it sends it up, pokes fun at the ridiculous nature of it and highlights how warped you would have to be to participate in a gang-bang that is being filmed for public consumption.
The story is told from the perspectives of three men - Mr 72, Mr 137 and Mr 600 - as they wait in the queue for their turn in front of the camera. Sheila, the wrangler who runs the green room, also narrates her side of the story.
If you think this sounds like the real life story of Annabel Chong, the pornographic actress who became famous by engaging in 251 sex acts with about 70 men over a ten-hour period, setting a world record in 1995, then you'd be right. But Palahniuk ratchets things up a gear or two, and makes the whole concept a terrible macabre joke by suggesting that the exercise, which might just kill Cassie Wright, will act as a launching pad for the careers of 600 desperate men happy to do anything to get in the history books. Or, as Mr 600 so aptly puts it:
Cassie Wright will be dead, but her backlist of videos, everything from the Ass Menagerie to her all-facial compilation Catch Her in the Eye to the classic A Separate Piece will turn into solid gold. Bang the Bum Slowly. Boxed collector-edition sets. The eternal Marilyn Monroe sacrificial goddess of adult entertainment.
As you would expect for a novel of this type, the language is crude and not for the faint-hearted. And whilst the subject matter is taboo, Palahniuk makes the history of it wholly fascinating, scattering intriguing and little-known facts throughout, such as Sheila's claim that Hitler invented the first blow-up sex doll, which, as my own internet research has revealed, is actually true:
During the First World War, I told her, Hitler had been a runner, delivering messages between the German trenches, and he was disgusted by seeing his fellow soldiers visit French brothels. To keep the Aryan bloodlines pure, and prevent the spread of venereal disease, he commissioned an inflatable doll that Nazi troops could take into battle. Hitler himself designed the dolls to have blond hair and large breasts. The Allied firebombing of Dresden destroyed the factory before the dolls could go into wide distribution.
Quite clearly this isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but having read pretty much all of Palahniuk's previous work I wasn't going to let this one slip by. I very much enjoyed it. And the ending is an absolute riotous cracker!