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Given the success of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Fight Club when adapted into a film, and the relatively good attempt at his Choke also, I'm surprised that Survivor hasn't yet been optioned, because it's arguably his most cinematic book, and definitely one of his best (perhaps second only to Fight Club).
The story introduces you to Tender Branson, who is the sole survivor of a suicidal cult. We begin the story in media res (in the middle of the story), and Branson notes to us how he has hijacked a plane and is going to crash it, killing himself. He documents his life into the plane's recording device, beginning with his childhood and detailing right up to present day. Why is Tender doing this? What has caused him to become so deranged? Over the next 200 pages, Chuck takes us on quite a wild, but hilarious and poignant ride.
What I really love about this novel is the form; it totally usurps the traditional ideas of the novel, with the "first" page actually being the last, and each page essentially counting down one more moment of Tender's life to the last one. Palahniuk no doubt owes his influences to the likes of Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, for Tender is a maddeningly unreliable narrator like you've never heard. Palahnium once again also gets at some great social satire, such as the manner in which we commoditize grief, illustrated by Tender's past, where he becomes a star due to being the final member of the cult.
There's nothing quite like this novel; it is brimming with wit and intelligence, while also being more affecting than Fight Club managed, even if the overall story isn't as engrossing. If you loved Fight Club, this is well worth reading, though.
Tender Branson is on a plane and it is clearly going to crash, especially now that he has cleared the plane of all other passengers and he is the only man left. Before dying, he wants to tell the world about his life - a life that is very different from most other people. For Tender is Creedish, which means he was brought up in the beliefs of a religious cult. As the second child (his twin brother was born a few minutes before him), he is destined for a life of servitude, and, as soon as he was old enough, he was sent out to make his living. Then the police began investigating the Creedish, and rather than share their world with the outside one, all the Creedish, with the exception of those working outside the Creedish camp, commit suicide, including Tender's family. Tender is one of the few survivors and, as all Creedish people are programmed to commit suicide eventually, he knows his fate. Or will he be able to find a way to override this fate?
As Chuck Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club, I had an idea that this book wouldn't be run of the mill, and I couldn't have been more correct. Very little of the world that we see through Tender's eyes is a world that we would recognise - in fact, the Creedish cult is the most normal part of the book. Tender works for a couple whose names are never mentioned, but they seem obsessed with knowing how to eat different types of food, constantly ringing Tender to ask him for his advice. Tender's only real friend, Fertility, is able to predict the future. And Tender's home number has been confused with a suicide helpline, and rather than fix it, he decides to persuade callers that they would be better off dead. Finally, once Tender is the only Creedish survivor, he becomes a religious leader, much loved and maligned by the media. Yet somehow, the way that Palahniuk tells the story, it all seems perfectly acceptable, if rather random.
It isn't easy to feel all that much sympathy for Tender, despite his predicament. He doesn't really seem to have much of a personality, behaving more like a work-horse than anything else. He describes himself as an overweight, ugly virgin and really doesn't try hard to convince the reader that there is more to him than meets the eye. Yet he is a rather intriguing character, simply because it is never clear what he is going to do next, and it is obvious that his strange childhood helped to shape most of his personality. His attraction to Fertility, whose brother he persuaded to commit suicide, almost seems out of character because for once, he shows an interest in another human being. A little more depth to his character might have made the book a little more compelling, but as I think the whole point is that we aren't supposed to understand Tender on any level, it really doesn't make that much difference.
I'm sure people have written dissertations about this book and its meaning, and there are certainly a number of ways that it could be interpreted. For me, Tender's predicament represents society and its stronghold on people, forcing them to behave in a certain way, meaning that those who don't conform (or don't want to conform) are eventually destroyed. There was little mention of mental health, apart from the suicide helpline, but I had a strong feeling that Palahniuk was referring to mental health issues a lot of the time, sympathising with those that have problems and therefore don't conform to the social norm. What I liked most about the book was the way that it made me think. I suspect everyone will interpret the book slightly differently, and that is absolutely fine - people should be able to make their own minds up.
The way the book is written is fascinating. The language used is very simple and often highly repetitive in a very effective way. For example, Tender will be telling the story of his life, interspersed with descriptions of how to remove stains from clothes, upholstery, etc. The atmosphere that this creates is one of monotony - that Tender's life is basically monotonous and he carries out his duties like an automoton with no thought behind why he is behaving in the way that he does. At times, it is even amusing despite the oddness of the situations - the reasons that Tender's suicidal customers have for wanting to die are, for example, quite wacky and original. I really enjoyed this style of writing - it probably isn't one that I would like to read too much of, but it certainly made a refreshing change and it will be one that I will remember for some time.
I was quite surprised, at first, to discover that the numbering of the pages begins at the end (page 289) and ends on page 1. The chapters are also back to front, probably representing the fact that the story begins at the end. However, it wasn't off-putting at all, and I quite liked the way that I could constantly tell how many pages I had left until the end. The chapters are a great length - usually no more than 5 or 6 pages - which makes it perfect for putting down and picking up again. And the fact that the story is so memorable means that it is hard to forget what had happened previously.
I liked this book a lot. It is very different from the type of fiction I would usually choose, but that made it refreshing, and I will most certainly be looking out for other books by the same author. I would recommend that people go into it with an open mind and see where it takes them - I have my opinion of what it all means, but it is up to the individual to make up their own minds. It probably won't sound like most people's idea of a good read, but it actually is suprisingly readable. Definitely recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £6.99. Published by Vintage, it has 304 pages. ISBN: 9780099282648
I can’t remember the last time I read a novel that taught me so much. Want to know how to clear those stubborn wine stains from your clothes? How to safely clear broken glass? How to eat lobster? Tender Branson, the hero of Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Survivor’ can tell you all this and more. Home economics, social etiquette and the virtues of the work ethic are all that he knows. Why? Because Tender Branson is Creedish. In fact he is the last of the Creedish, the rest of this Christian sect having engaged in a mass suicide a la the Peoples Temple, Heaven’s Gate and others in recent years. And, as the novel opens (at the last page of the last chapter), Branson is alone in a hijacked airliner running out of fuel. The reason that Branson is the fount of all knowledge when it comes to domestic tasks is that he is not the first born in his family. Only a Creedish first-born can marry, reproduce and stay within the Creedish community. For everybody else it is intensive study and then release into the sinful outside world for a life-time of servitude. Cleanliness is surely next to Godliness, and for the Creedish sending their sons and daughters out into the world to slave away is a form of missionary work. It also brings in a large income to the community… Like ‘Fight Club’, this is humour that’s as black as tar. Religion, tele-evangelising, alienation, sex…No, we won’t mention sex because Tender Branson, like the rest of the Creedish slaves (much sought-after by middle-class American employers), is a virgin. Of course, once it is discovered that he is the sole surviving Creedish, his worth rises incredibly. Before you know it he is swept into a voracious marketing machine which remoulds him into a commercial product worth millions. ‘Fight Club’ wasn’t a one-off, this is a hugely enjoyable romp through modern-day America that confirms Palahniuk’s eye for the absurd
and the skill of his writing.
I'm a sucker for unusual books, I admit it. Whether it's an unconventional size of volume, or an unusual layout of text on the pages, I'm there. So, when I saw the novel 'Survivor' by Chuck Palahniuk numbered the pages in reverse order, I had to buy it. I wasn't particularly worried about the plot, nor about the author, I just thought it was an interesting gimmick, so I rewarded the publisher with a purchase. As it turns out, my purchase was a very rewarding one. 'Survivor' is a very well-written, captivating book, with a lot of fascinating ideas, and a healthy (or unhealthy) dash of pre-millennial tension thrown in for good measure. Chuck Palahniuk, for those who don't recognise the name, is the author of 'Fight Club', the novel that inspired David Fincher's 1999 excellent, but sadly-under-attended-at-the-box-office-due-to-woefully-inappropriate-promotion, film. THE PLOT The book is about a character by the unlikely name of Tender Branson. When we first encounter him, at the start of the book, in chapter 47, on page 289, he is the only passenger on a commandeered Boeing 747 en route to Australia, narrating his story to the plane's black box recorder, before the plane runs out of fuel. We soon learn that Tender was a member of a church community from Nebraska not much different from the Amish, in regard to their distrust of technology and modern technology, who live by a very strict set of rules. In the community, known as the Creedish, every couple produces as many children as possible. The eldest son of every couple, named Adam, and the eldest daughter are allowed to remain in the community, and marry another eldest child. The younger sons, all of whom are named Tender, and all the younger daughters, stay in the community until their 18th birthday, when they are sent out into the world to spread the word about their religion. All sound fine? Well, it would be, if it we
ren't for the fact that the Creedish are a death cult. When the church leaders announce the time of 'the Deliverance' all Creedish, including the exiled church members, are expected to commit suicide as soon as they hear about the coming of the Deliverance. Tender Branson, like many of the outcast members of the church, first finds out about the Deliverance when some policemen and a caseworker turn up on his doorstep to prevent him committing suicide. As the numbers of Creedish survivors dwindle, and the page numbers decline, Tender's life takes strange turns. At the beginning of the story Tender narrates to the black box recorder, he has been a survivor for ten years, and is still being visited by his caseworker. He works for a rich couple, cleaning their enormous home, and teaching them how to eat tricky foodstuffs like lobster over the speakerphone while they're at work. In his spare time, he answers phone calls from people seeking Samaritans-style advice, originally due to a misprint in a newspaper that gave his number by mistake. However, when he discovers how much he enjoys it, he begins advertising his service with notices reading "Give Yourself, Your Life, Just One More Chance. Call Me For Help." His 'help' almost exclusively consists of the two words "Kill Yourself." THE WRITING I haven't actually read 'Fight Club', though I have seen the film. Both stories involve dysfunctional, disillusioned characters annexed from the society that they occupy. This, apparently, is a common theme in Palahniuk's work, and it's certainly something that he can write well. Both stories feature relatively weak female characters, who are nonetheless instrumental in driving the self-discovery of the main characters – Marla in 'Fight Club' and Fertility in 'Survivor'. Both stories also include passages on aeroplanes which is apparently another bete noire of Palahni
uk's, since an aeroplane (or at least, an aeroplane lavatory) is also set to feature prominently in his next work, 'Choke'. Also, both stories involve characters with a large amount of knowledge of very specific fields. Tender provides a lot of details about housekeeping and etiquette that he learnt in the Creedish community, such as how to remove various stains and which cutlery to use at dinner. Palahniuk has also done a lot of homework into psychological disorders, not only to make Tender's character more believable, but also because we learn that over Tender's ten year stint with his caseworker, he pretended to have various psychoses listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The actual writing style is very good, consisting of screamingly funny black comedy from beginning to end, with every opportunity taken to lampoon contemporary social mores. Palahniuk writes extremely well and Tender comes over as a very believable character. As the story progresses, you do begin to sympathise more and more with Tender's predicament, and perhaps more worryingly, after a while you begin to associate with his unique outsider's perspective on modern life. Obviously the text is written in the first person from beginning to end, since it takes the form of Tender's confession to the black box recorder, and is as rambling as a single person's 289-page account of their life might be expected to be. As for the ending, and no, don't worry, I'm not going to spoil anything. We already know from the first few pages of the book where and when the book's going to end, so it's no surprise to that it ends with the Boeing descending at terminal velocity towards Australia. I liked the ending as I read it, and made my own assumptions about what Palahniuk was trying to imply, which I felt pretty satisfied with. However, I have subsequently read Palahniuk's intention for how the ending sh
ould be interpreted. I must confess, I'd not spotted the various details woven into the text suggesting his alternative explanation for what happens, but they are there. If you've got your wits about you, and a very (very) lateral mind, you might figure it out. I didn't. You can find a discussion of the ending of the book, including Palahniuk's explanation for how he envisioned the ending to be interpreted at: http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net/survivor.htm, but don't scroll down and read it before reading the book – you'll only spoil it for yourself. Really. MOVIE RUMOURS If it weren't the minimal returns on 'Fight Club' at the box office, Hollywood would no doubt be hammering at Palahniuk's door for the rights to convert 'Survivor' into a movie. In a lot of ways, 'Survivor' lends itself better to a movie, with a truly stunning conclusion that is easy to miss in the novel, but could be expressed superbly on the big screen. There have been rumours of a movie for several months now, with Nine Inch Nails musician Trent Reznor, expressing enthusiasm to provide a soundtrack, and Gwyneth Paltrow's brother, Jake, being brought in to write the script. The first person to express an interest in directing the movie was Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer behind wholesome run-of-the-mill Hollywood action movies like 'Top Gun' and 'The Rock'. Needless to say, this would have been a disaster for the movie, and Reznor announced that he'd withdraw from the film if Bruckheimer directed. Most likely, Bruckheimer will take his usual role of producer, and bring in someone else to direct. So many rumours abound about the stars likely to be brought in for the film, that it's difficult to keep track of them all. The last I heard was that Tender Branson could well be played by Kevin Spacey, and Tony 'Enemy of the State' Scott might be brought in to direct, but thi
s could well change... CONCLUSIONS 'Survivor' is a film begging to be made. It's a fascinating satire on organised religion, and Palahniuk takes an extremely vicious swipe at modern society. It's a brilliantly written book, and is extremely compelling – I found myself reading it every odd moment that I had available at work. The comedy in the book is very dark, and so long as yours is too, you'll absolutely love it.
Impossible to imagine, but 'Survivor' is allgedly being considered as a Hollywood movie. Obviously, if you'd read Palahniuk's 'Fight Club' a few years ago, and someone said that a wholly faithful and hugely rewarding movie would be made from it with big stars, you'd be like, yeah, right. But somehow, I think the story of Tender Branson, narrating his sorry tale as cult survivor and modern-day media messiah is just a little too much (oh, but I'd retain the 'Fight Club' team with Fincher directing and either Pitt or Norton as Tender). 'Fight Club' see society unravelling because of a generation of fatherless men who don't know where to put themselves any more - 'Survivor' is about a religious figure created solely through marketing, media appearances and image. Being the last surviving member of a religious cult (which is both ridiculous and horribly believable), Tender is taken up by the media and becomes a spokesperson for a religion which is run by advertising and product placement. Like 'Fight Club'. there is another weird male / female relationship here (Tender's girlfriend is a psychic who can predict disasters), and a very bitter, very bleak view of how people live their lives. Like 'Life of Brian', the book attacks religion rather than faith, and is a pretty damning indictment of America's love-affair with television. One important thing: Tender is narrating on a plane which is about to crash, but according to an interview I read with Palahniuk, the ending isn't quite what it seems and there is an early clue as to what really happens. My copy is currently two hundred miles away, so I can't re-read it, so when you read the book (which, honestly, you should), do so carefully.
If you haven't heard of Chuck Palahniuk he is an authour who burst onto the scene (literally) with "The Fight Club"; the novel on which the controversial film was based. If you didn't like the film well I don't think this book is for you. A high octane page turner, I devoured it in one sitting and then read it again! It's narrated by Tender Branson the last surviving member of a suicide cult and deals with his sudden rise to fame. Through this device the authour examines society, our place in it and in particular our fascination with fame. Our need to know everything about people in the public eye. We accompany Tender on his rise and his attempts to stay at the top; the need to go further and further. His agent controls him in the same way that his cult use to; he has never been free. Could he cope without the comfort of this control? Can we? As an extra along the way you learn some really useful cleaning tips. Do you want to know how to clean up broken glass? A piece of bread; press it down on the shards and it'll lift them up. Plus many other useful tips.
Tender Branson, messiah and last survivor of the 'Creedish Death Cult', tells his life story into the black box recorder of a doomed plane.