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Last man standing
Survivor - Chuck Palahniuk
Member Name: sunmeilan
Survivor - Chuck Palahniuk
Advantages: Very readable, can be appreciated on different levels
Disadvantages: Some may find it too surreal
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
Summary: An excellent book from the author of Fight Club