Monday, August 27, 2007

rant, by chuck palahniuk

'Rant', the latest novel by Chuck Palahniuk is, as you'd expect, a frenetic, funny and frequently disgusting book, an 'oral history' of Rant Casey, a Grenouille-styled protagonist whose senses are exploding with sensitivity. Rant is a tearaway with extraordinary powers, a man who can taste what you had for breakfast three days ago by going down on you. His own sexual pleasure is spiked by spider-bites and scorpion stings.

Told in a documentary, anecdotal style by friends, sociologists and historians keen to constuct a mythology around Rant, the book is an oral history in more ways than one. Rant has rabies, and as he kisses, sucks and fucks his way around a contemporary but altered America, he becomes a killer, too.

Palahniuk's fearsome imagination gives us a vibrant and savage alternative America, where kids are forever boosting peaks - plugging their brains into a recording of another person's experience - or going party crashing twice a week, steering their cars hard into each other. The first third of the book, which covers Rant's upbringing, is simply bursting with live, crackling ideas. From that point on Palahniuk's vision expands to create a vast, satirical world - and simultaneously loses all its fizz and sparkle.

Not since I read Douglas Coupland's 'Girlfriend In a Coma' have I read a novel which collapses so thoroughly under the weight of its ideas, turning from a dizzying explosion of colour into a heavy, laborious struggle. At only 300 pages long 'Rant' is a horribly lopsided, sludgy read, which I had to force myself to finish. Palahniuk's conflagration of violence, non-fiction research, sci-fi and furious satire drastically over-eggs a book which is occasionally hugely thought-provoking and hilarious. But once the athor transfers the action to the city, the jokes just cease being funny - Palahniuk's writing drys up.

Ever so slightly redeemed by a brazenly forceful and bewildering twist in its final pages, 'Rant' is a book that infuriated me. It's much more likely a book which will please fans of Ballard, Coupland or Irvine Welsh (which I'm not) and it's certainly ambitious and impressive.

But I finished it with an unfamiliar sense of relief.

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