Snuff is the story of Cassie Wright, porn princess, who attempts to end her legendary career by breaking the world record for serial sex with a 600 man gang bang. The story is obviously inspired by Annabel Chong’s famous real life record breaking movie and Palahniuk references Chong’s ‘porn classic’ throughout. Three of the voices used to tell the story are those of ‘dicks’ in the queue, waiting their turn with Cassie, the fourth is that of her PA, who came up with the idea for the whole thing.
The action of the novel takes place largely in the waiting area, a sordid basement filled with the slowly dwindling numbers of volunteers waiting for their number to be called. Here the characters share their stories, how they got here, why they got here, and, in some cases, what they plan to do now they’re here. Each narrator has their own agenda, making each one less than reliable and it is this feature of the text that creates much of the narrative tension. Each character also takes the time to deliver their views on pornography and the sex industry, allowing Palahniuk a great deal of scope when addressing his theme.
Along the way the reader is exposed to a condensed history of porn, Palahniuk feeding snippets of fact (Adolf Hitler devising the blow up doll to keep his troops from having intercourse outside the Aryan boodline, the human foetus masturbates in the womb upto a month before birth being two memorable examples) that feel like they may or may not be true, depending on how much you trust the narrator. Readers of Palahniuk’s other novels will recognise the heavily researched authority in his writing, undermined here through the use of unreliable narrators.
Snuff is by no means a disappointment, but neither is it the triumph that Fight Club, Lullaby and Choke each managed to be. The multiple narrators have far too similar voices, differentiation created largely through a few vocal ticks rather than a change of style. The plot is perhaps a little flimsy but the pace of the story carries the reader to the epic grossout imagery of the finale despite this. That said, the riffs on porn versions of classic movies are genuinely entertaining and Palahniuk will impress you with how many alternatives he has found for the word ‘wanker.’ This is a gross and grossly funny book.
Fans of Palahniuk will stand by Snuff as a satire of popular and porno culture. The rest may be put off by the subject matter, the seedy characters and the author’s willingness to explore the darkest recesses of his subject. However, looking at Snuff and his next novel Pygmy (in which adolescent terrorists infiltrate America as foreign exchange students), it is clear that Chuck Palahniuk is still THE author prepared to overstep the boundaries of good taste and convention in an effort to get to the heart of his subject, his themes and the world we live in. For that, if nothing else, Snuff is worth your time and attention.