Retro review: Guts

Review originally published on LiveJournal in October 2005.

After much bewilderment and attempt to curb my anticipation, I have managed to get hold of a copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted. I thoughtlessly began reading it on the train on the trip into work this morning, forgetting what I had been told: that one story was sufficiently appalling that it had made some [American] readers faint. Allegedly.

Of course, I was buffered by the cotton wool security that all authors build up to crescendos; in a cycle of short stories that together build a novel, anything that awful would be near the end. I could work my way through the first section of the book on public transport in complete safety.

More fool me.

Guts is the 3rd chapter and 1st short story in the book. I turned the page, saw the title, and spent five minutes gleefully wrestling with myself. Should I risk reading it now? Should I read it at lunch time? Was it really going to be that bad? Could I handle a morning of anticipation?


I turned the page and got on with it.

I shall say little, spoilers being evil creatures. I will say this: I see now why it affected some people so strongly. For the first few paragraphs, I was preparing to snort at the small-minded response of people who read stories about masturbation. I grew up reading Ian McEwan: after The Cement Garden, there is no fear.

And then Guts turned out to be about something else. I carefully disengaged the visual/sensory sections of my imagination and finished the story. Objectively, and from a distance, it’s hilarious (if in terribly bad taste). If you allowed yourself to be immersed… well, yes, perhaps my brain would have shut down on me too. As it was, my bottom twinged.

I shall say no more.