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Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison. I’m just now arrived here, in Hell, but it’s not my fault except for maybe dying from an overdose of marijuana. Maybe I’m in Hell because I’m fat—a Real Porker. If you can go to Hell for having low self-esteem, that’s why I’m here. I wish I could lie and tell you I’m bone-thin with blond hair and big ta-tas. But, trust me, I’m fat for a really good reason.”

And so it begins... the latest novel by Fight Club creator Chuck Palahniuk, the cultiest of cult authors.

The plot of Damned concerns 13-year-old Madison; she’s overweight, ignored by her movie star parents, and in love with her adopted brother. She also happens to be dead. But not just dead. Madison is in Hell.

Damned takes us on Madison’s journey through the bowels of Hell, as she navigates the Hillocks of Discarded Nail Parings and the River of Vomit, meeting everyone from Charles Darwin to Marilyn Monroe, with a colourful cast of characters (damned for unspeakable acts like wearing white shoes on Labor Day), to determine why she’s really there, and whether she’s just passing through or there for all eternity.

Palahniuk, who I had the pleasure of interviewing ahead of his visit to the Edinburgh Book Festival a few years back, has described the novel as “if The Shawshank Redemption had a baby by The Lovely Bones and it was raised by Judy Blume.”

In short, it’s kind of like The Breakfast Club set in Hell.

Here, Palahniuk follows a well-trodden path of biting social satire common to his novels. And though some say it’s time for a new trick from the American author - that his work is trite, formulaic, gimmicky and only written to shock - Damned is fresh, laugh-out-loud funny, and has more original ideas per chapter than most authors can conjure up in a lifetime’s writing.

The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ certainly applies and, if you’re yet to acquaint yourself with Palahniuk, you should get your hands on a copy of Damned at the first opportunity - and then devour the author’s glorious back catalogue.

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk is published in hardback and ebook on September 8 by Jonathan Cape, priced £12.99

FILM

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (15)

Spain’s high priest of hip, Pedro Almodovar has been blazing his own path since 1980’s Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls, and even now, at 61, his work is still fresh and exciting to watch.

“I’m an artist,’ Almodovar says, “and I’m part of every decision in a movie. This is not how they work in Hollywood. There, the director is part of the crew, not the main creator.

“I’m too old to change now,” he adds. “I wouldn’t know how to do it.”

His latest, The Skin I Live In, has been described as a “deliciously dark, superbly written thriller-slash-twisted love story”.

In short, it’s a film that carries all the Almodovar trademarks: rapid-fire dialogue, strong female characters, dark humour and a dramatic twist to the tale.

By his own admission, the film, starring Spanish movie icon Antonio Banderas (who returns to the Almodovar fold for the first time since 1990’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) and Elena Anaya, is something of a departure for the Oscar-winning auteur.

“Whenever I’ve shot my previous films, I’ve felt the phantoms of my own cinema past and personal past hovering over me,” he says. “They accompanied me through those films. But this time I felt completely on my own.

“For the first time this film did not go hand-in-hand with my memories. The tone is different as well. It’s very austere.”

The Skin I Live In is showing now at the Cameo Picturehouse, Home Street, various times, 0871-902 5723