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Book review: <i>Diary</i> by Chuck Palahniuk

I admit I started reading Diary based exclusively on the fact that it was written by Chuck Palahniuk, having previously read and enjoyed Fight Club some years ago. I had no idea of the story. But I’ll tell you something... I was hooked from the first page.

The story

Misty married Peter because she wanted to escape from the trailer park she had grown up in, and because he thought she was a great artist. When she drew beautiful houses from her imagination to escape her trailer park reality, it turned out her imaginings were from a real place—Waytansea Island, where Peter’s family was from. However, life didn’t quite go as Misty planned, and middle age found her stuck on Waytansea Island, working at the Waytansea Hotel waiting tables wearing a pink plastic uniform serving the “summer people” while Peter did home renovations for them. Then, more responsibility was placed upon Misty when Peter tried to commit suicide and was left in a coma. The beautiful island had, over the years, become overrun by tourists and advertising companies. The old families were slowly running out of money, forced to work for the tourists, vacate their houses for the tourists, and live at the hotel. The houses were running into disrepair, and with her twelve year old daughter and irritating mother-in-law in tow, Misty was falling into a state of depression and mild alcoholism.

However, when she started receiving the phone calls about the strange things Peter did in the homes of the “summer people” before he tried to kill himself, she met Angel Delaporte and the two of them started investigating the bizarre goings on. Her mother-in-law, Grace, and her daughter, Tabbie, started encouraging her to paint, telling her that not only could she be very famous, but she could in fact save the island from the summer people and restore it to its former glory. Misty wasn’t convinced, but some very strange things started happening and soon Misty was struggling against mysterious forces much larger than herself in an effort to stop an ancient and deadly island ritual...

The style

The style is a little confronting, but in a good way; Diary is written in the second person and is a narrative directed at Peter, who is currently in a coma, all about the life of Misty that he is missing. The inference at the end is that it is Misty writing, but she refers to herself in the third person the whole way through. However, the reader is placed firmly in the position of Peter, to the point where the narrator will be talking about. For example, Tabbie having Peter’s hair: “Her hair. Your hair.” the narration will stress. I usually hate the second person narration, but in Diary it gave the story extra punch and didn’t have that irritatingly displacing effect. The purpose of the writing is revealed at the end, so it also makes total sense as a device. So snaps for that, Chuck Palahniuk.

Palahniuk maintains his style; although it has developed since Fight Club, he uses minimalist sentences and small words to write with apparent simplicity—no frills—yet he paints evocative and intense mental pictures. Misty is a simple soul—she can write about things she learned in art class, but she is just a waitress, and Palahniuk demonstrates this throughout with the minimalist language employed in the narration. He also deals with the mystical element in the plot with real class... not over emphasised like a Stephen King/Dean Koontz novel. I realise this one got mixed reviews from readers, but I really enjoyed it, to the point of being unwilling to put it down.

Who is this book for?

This book is a good holiday read—it’s spooky, not to heavy, and much classier than your run of the mill pseudo-horror. It’s quick to get through too.

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

Chuck Palahniuk has written a couple of other novels—six in total at last count—and some of the die-hard Palahniuk fans didn’t like this as much as his other stuff. Based on that you might like his others even more or they might not be in your taste. However, if you'd like to try them out, we have reviews for Survivor and Non-Fiction.

In short

Title: Diary
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Anchor
ISBN: 1400032814
Year published: 2004
Pages: 272
Genre(s): Fiction, Mystery
Review Type: