Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, looked one of the more interesting and controversial authors appearing at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival. On Saturday night Chuck Palahniuk appeared before a sold out audience for ‘The Skinny’ sponsored event. The session was chaired by Steven Gale, but for the first half of the show it was Chuck alone who ran proceedings.
The event opened with Chuck reciting a story about how every Sunday he walks to see his friends, including one couple who have a diabetic, overweight cat called Petey. It was a humorous start and clearly demonstrated Chuck’s great story telling ability; it also marked the first laughs of many through the evening. It wasn’t long before Chuck was throwing personally autographed sex dolls into the audience and starting a race to inflate them. The first inflators of a male doll and female doll received a horror DVD called Throwaway.
After this audience interaction the lights dimmed and we were offered a reading of ‘Guts’ or ‘Loser’. I don’t think the title ‘Guts’ sold this particularly well, or perhaps the many Chuck Palahniuk fans in the auditorium already knew about the faintings this story story had induced on previous audiences. ‘Loser’ was the overwhelming choice, which Chuck assured us was written specifically for people who had paid to see him and it would never be published. Naively I assumed ‘Loser’ was an exclusive reading for Edinburgh. After a quick look on youtube this clearly isn’t the case:
- Watch Chuck Palahniuk ‘Loser’ reading: part 1 | part 2 | part 3
- Watch Chuck Palahniuk ‘Guts’ reading: part 1 | part 2
‘Loser’ is a story about an American ‘Fraternity Hazing’ which involves taking part in ‘The Price is Right’ game show while on drugs. It’s a typical humour-laden story and introduces a key theme of Chuck Palahniuk’s writings, which is to invoke a physical connection with the audience. The story was fine for British ears, especially as Chuck renamed one of the product’s used in the game show as ‘Uncle Ben’s’. Following the reading Steven Gale entered the stage and asked Chuck some questions on his new book ‘Snuff’. I found this section rather awkward, as the questions were very specific to the book and along the lines of “do you agree with?”. Chuck did emphasise how in-depth he researches content for his books; for ‘Snuff’ he had his back waxed.
The question and answer section was a great opportunity for Chuck Palahniuk fans to quiz their idol. I did get the impression that Chuck had amusing stories he would tell regardless of the question though. Thankfully all the stories were engrossing and the physical connection was again made when Chuck told us about his academic friend who tried to lose a finger for compensation, when working as an airport baggage handler. The final story, about a French vet initiation ceremony, really held the audience attention, as Chuck revealed how the would-be vet was fed tranquilisers and left to fight his way out of a dead horse’s stomach!
From the question and answer session we learnt Chuck likes to shave his hair off when writing his second draft and when younger he produced lots of material which imitated the style of other writers. Chuck also thinks all his books should be categorised as ‘Romance’. Chuck Palahniuk’s writing style is minimalist and we were told, when writing, he avoids use of abstract measurements, so the reader can identify with the characters. I see Chuck’s point - e.g. don’t describe someone as 6 feet tall - but I didn’t think a measurement such as feet would be classed as abstract; surely feet is a specific term!?
The autograph queue after the event was the largest I have ever seen at the Edinburgh Book Festival and certainly the only queue to include inflatable sex dolls! Overall Chuck Palahniuk’s appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival was different, although perhaps a little light on illuminating discussion. Maybe more of an event for the die hard fans, not casual observers like myself.