Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 272 pages; 2004.
London’s Time Out magazine described Chuck Palahuniuk‘s Diary as “Part Rosemary’s Baby, part the Wicker Man“, which is to say it’s creepy and nihilistic, shocking and disturbing.
Personally, I think a more apt description for Diary is Stephen King’s Misery meets Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.
Palahniuk, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors, has written a wonderfully entertaining novel that gripped me from start to finish.
It takes the form of a stylised diary written by Misty Marie Wilmot, who is a washed-up artist living on the happy holiday, picture-postcard pretty resort of Waytansea Island. Her husband has just tried to kill himself and now lies in a coma from which it’s unlikely he’ll ever recover. Her 12-year-old daughter, Tabitha, has developed an unholy alliance with Misty’s mother-in-law, Grace, and life in general has turned into a fog of constant drinking, pill-popping and cigarette smoking, while working as a downtrodden, quickly aging maid at the island’s tourist-ridden hotel.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Misty has to fight off legal suits being filed against her husband who has been “hiding” rooms in houses he’s refurbished. Inside the “missing” rooms he’s scrawled vile and violent messages across the walls, many of them personal attacks on Misty herself.
If this story sounds weird and depressing, let me confirm that it is. But it’s also hilariously, overwhelmingly, laugh-out loud FUNNY. And like any great comedy the laughs are well-timed, coming at just the right points to alleviate the heart-felt despair.
Palahniuk also does clever things with the language. Diary switches from first person to third person and back again, sometimes within the space of a paragraph, but this is never disorientating for the reader. Similarly, it jumps backwards and forwards in time, but the switches are seamless. There’s a lovely, soothing rhythm to the writing. In some places it is like poetry.
And the story itself, which moves along at a heady pace, has some wonderful twists and turns. You can’t help but feel sorry for poor Misty as she struggles to make sense of her life, her marriage and her real purpose for living, caught up in the devious plans of the people who are supposed to love her.
All in all, a fantastic (in all sense of the word) read.