Adolescence is hell...

Adolescence is hell…

“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison.”

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of religion, the idea of eternal torment and torture is not one you’ll be much keen on. The idea of where we go when we die has kept people thinking for millennia, and the only thing we know for sure is that none of us know. The Ancient Greeks thought everyone ended up in the same place regardless of Earthly behaviour, Muslims believe in Jahannam, and the Hindu faith suggests we are reincarnated. As such, the potential nature of the afterlife has interested writers forever, and as long-time visitors to this blog will know, I rather like books that take place in Heaven or Hell. In Palahniuk’s book, he takes us on a journey through one of the most vile incarnations of the place I’ve ever seen.

Madison Spencer is thirteen years old, daughter of a movie star mother and billionaire father, and has found herself dead and locked in a cell in the underworld of Hades. She recieves scant advice from those in neighbouring cells – don’t touch the bars, don’t eat the candy, etc – but senses that an eternity of this might get really old really quickly. Besides, she’s pretty sure that she shouldn’t be there anyway, and can’t remember the exact details that led to her death.

One of her neighbours, Archer, a guy with a blue mohawk and a safety pin through his cheek, breaks her out of her cage and the two of them, along with jock Patterson, nerd Leonard and beauty Babette, take a tour of Hell, taking in such sights as Shit Lake, the Sea of Insects and the Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm. After an encounter with a particularly unpleasant demon who tries to eat them, they are all taken to the main offices of Hell where they get jobs in telemarketing, calling the living during dinner to ask inane questions.

When Madison finds that most of the people she’s speaking to are either terminally ill or very old, she begins convincing them to do bad and hurry on down to Hell where the real party is happening. She becomes noteworthy for her ability to draw the living down to the afterlife, and soon everyone else in Hell has started to notice, and she begins to feel like she deserves more and more. Power, after all, is addictive.

OK, so for the off, Madison is a fairly irritating character for the most part, telling you every few pages that while she might only be thirteen, she is intelligent and optimistic (the biggest obstacle in Hell, she notes, is that you have to give up on hope to be able to survive), and her rise to power seems to happen rather too easily, although this is potentially explained away by later events that I won’t ruin now. The book flip-flops rather dramatically though, building up her fellow Hellmates (who are modelled roughly on the archetypes from The Breakfast Club) into supporting characters and then dropping them for much of the middle of the narrative. They return again towards the end in scenes that further colour them in, but the impression they leave isn’t that strong.

The world of Hell itself is terrifying in its vileness. Not only are there the aforementioned seas of insects and sperm, but there’s also rivers of vomit, forests of amputated limbs, mountains of fingernail clippings, and every demon you can imagine. According to the logic of this universe, every time a culture on Earth is wiped out, their gods become demons, meaning it notes that even one day Jesus himself may be regarded in this way. The rules for getting into Hell are also rather hilarious, and we get to see some of the statistics. Apparently 100% of redheads go to Hell, as do 100% of journalists, 98.3% of lawyers, and anyone with a university education is six times more likely to end up down here. You’re also allowed no more than 500 honks of your car horn, 100 dropped cigarette butts and 700 uses of the word “fuck” before you are condemned with no hope of redemption. The best of these is that you’re only allowed to fart in an occupied lift three times.

It’s dark enough to be recognisably Palahniuk, but I wasn’t entirely captivated by the characters, so my interest waxed and waned throughout. I feel that it may be a pastiched hybrid of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Dante’s Inferno, but since I’ve read neither, perhaps a lot of it went over my head. It’s also the first of a trilogy, but I’m in no hurry to hunt out the sequel, Doomed. It’s quite smart, but it just didn’t grip me.

For my take on the afterlife, download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus from any online ebook store. Not only does it contain that, but also a headless horseman, an intrepid tabloid journalist, and tips on how to get down from the top of London’s tallest building.