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Book review: <i>Invisible Monsters</i> by Chuck Palahniuk

the cover of the book

In a world where beauty opens every door, can a person be brave enough to be everything they don’t want to be?

The story

Meet Shannon McFarland. Supermodel. Super-bitch. Super vapid twenty-something with a whole load of hang-ups, a big boned best friend, and a hot cop boyfriend who might take his job in vice a little too seriously. Her life revolves around posing, on and off camera, distracting the populous with her beauty, and trying to cope with her parents and her dead brother, whose spectre looms over the house even more now he’s gone.

It’s all going pretty well, until one day, as Shannon is driving into the city, she gets shot through the open window of the car, blowing her jaw off. She gets to the hospital, gets dumped by her boyfriend, and tries to work out what to do with the rest of her life now she’s no longer beautiful. Enter Brandy Alexander.

Brandy Alexander befriends Shannon. Doesn’t ask her name, or her past. Creates her a whole new identity, one a day, if required. Together, they end up on the road, each searching for something new, the key to their futures. However, as things start to heat up, they just seem to be getting closer to being back where they started...

The style

Invisible Monsters was apparently Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, which was rejected by publishers for being a bit too out there. And it’s out there, but not American Psycho out there. Thank God. It’s classic Palahniuk; having all the blue prints in it for his cyclic, spiraling story lines that start at the climax and have a narrator telling the story up to that point. It has his successful, tell-tale writing techniques, the device in this one being the fashion photographer’s camera:

Give me lust, baby.
Give me malice.
Give me detached existentialist ennui.
Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.

The story is written in the first person from Shannon’s point of view. It’s a pretty brave move for a first novel (writing from the first person in the opposite gender? Phew! But fitting for the story!) and, while the character didn’t sit all that well with me in the beginning—I found her femaleness dubious—Palahniuk pulled it together pretty quickly and she quickly became believable and someone the reader could feel emotionally invested in. All the characters were out there, over the top, and excellent fun.

While I think Palahniuk is always topical, some of the themes in Invisible Monsters were a lot more obvious than in his later works, where he went slightly more subtle. The overtness of the themes in the story is actually great fun, incorporating dragqueens and overt sensationalism and searches for identity. Since the plot is so out there, it makes sense that the themes are also out there. Furthermore, the ending is also over the top, with the typical Palahniuk twists, carried out with confidence and aplomb. It’s a really great book, and what I enjoyed most I think was the black humour. I snickered aloud from time to time while reading it, because it was clever and funny. For a novel, it’s excellent fun. For a first novel, it’s downright impressive.

Who is this book for?

Palahniuk fans, absolutely. And if you’re wanting to be introduced to Palahnuik as a writer, or introduce someone else to Palahiuk, this is a great place to start. Not for the faint-hearted, it does have some fairly out there elements in it—don’t give it to granny for Christmas, is what I’m saying—but otherwise, I’d whole-heartedly recommend it.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Any of Palahniuk’s other works. In particular, Survivor and probably Diary too.

In short

Title: Invisible Monsters
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 0393319296
Year published: 1999
Pages: 278
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: