Pygmy Paperback – 3 Jun 2010
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"The boldest book in a long while...ace" (Lauren Laverne Grazia)
"A hilarious novel...as ever, Palahniuk is interested in pushing the limits. He leaps over the line of good taste - and lands squarely on his feet" (Booklist)
"Brilliant... It has moments of poetry" (Daily Telegraph)
"Brilliantly conceived, linguistically inventive and extremely rude" (Anne McElvoy New Statesman, Books of 2009)
"The novel abandons minimalism for a Clockwork Orange-style spin through a semi-invented language. Consequently, it's Palahniuk's most challenging book yet" (Colin Waters The Sunday Herald)
The most ambitious novel yet from the author of Fight Club and Choke.See all Product description
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Now move forward to a mid-Western church in America where a female missionary feels such concern for these children that she arranges an exchange visit for a number of them to stay with American host-families. The children arrive in America to have six months of respite from their harsh existence, and as the host-father puts it, to "to sing our songs and share the fellowship of our homes and church". However, unbeknown to these generous-hearted families, these children have been given a plan: their educators have shown them how to wreak "Operation Havoc", a terrible act of destruction on the evil American town in which they have come to stay.
This book is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. The whole book is written in the first person by one of the children, Operative 67, using a sort of pidgin American which takes some getting used to but provides considerable insight into the regime they have been brought up in.
The book is a satire, but on both cultures. The host-family are a sort of Simpsons-like parody of the ideal American family, mixing a mindless involvement in their church community while indulging in all the excesses of American culture. The immigrant children however are classic communist automatons, parroting ideological phrases in everything they say. Agent 67 for example is surprised that in order to gain training in organic chemistry or nuclear particle flux statistics, American youth must:
I soon got used to the language and found myself paging back through the book to notice subtleties I'd missed earlier. You need to work at this book quite a bit, for its actually very clever indeed and is worth reading twice. The story works forward to its inevitable conclusion, with many hilarious episodes along the way. Pygmy has to take part in every part of the family's life and his commentary on their activities offers a unique perspective on dating, shopping and entertainment. Little do these poor saps realise the hate-filled response of this small child among them whose every act is slowly working towards fulfilment of the mission set for him.
I think is a book I will definitely be keeping on my shelves for future re-reading.
Beneath an alienating structure, Palahniuk is courting the type of controversy he is known for. The main character is from an unknown Socialist country and is living with a darkly stereotypical American family from the Bible belt. Palahniuk pokes equal fun at both parties and as usual looks at the sinister underbelly of America. There are scenes in `Pygmy' that are extreme, even to Palahniuk's standards, and it is not a book I could recommend to anyone with a sensitive deposition. At its best `Pygmy' is a scathing attack on the commercialism of America and some people's habitual racism. At worst the book is mere controversy fodder and does not actually have a real structure or purpose like in Palahniuk's earlier, and brilliant work, `Fight Club' or `Lullaby'.
There is no other author quite like Palahniuk out there and for that reason I continue to read his work. However, there are also few authors out there that have such a varied standard of output, from the sublime to the dull. `Pygmy' sits somewhere in the middle as an average book in the Palahniuk cannon. In the future Palahniuk is likely to be remembered as one of the most interesting authors of the late 20th and early 21st century, however, this book is unlikely to get a mention.
But this book is different. The satire has its cutting edge back, no doubt due to the one thing that will polarize even die hard "Cult" members about this title; the prose.
Burgess wrote "A Clockwork Orange" in his infamous made up argot of nadsat, and Welsh wrote "Trainspotting" in accurately rendered working class Scottish, establishing a lineage in transgressive literature for telling a tale from the most extreme point of view intimately, and "Pygmy" takes up the baton by relating the usual Palaniuk tale of clockwork chaos in the broken English of an uber-foreigner.
Some people will find this an absolute joy (as I did) and others, missing the point, will complain that it was hard to read. But, just as Burgess's novel of brainwashing was constructed to peform its own kind of brainwashing on readers by forcing them to learn its bastardized Russian-English, so Palahniuk uses an outsider to dissect America by use of clever word twisting. One, just one, example; "grope hug."
That's what makes this book worth the effort. By using a different point of view (the typical Palahniuk protoganist being a cooly apathetic American surrounded by a cast of identical cooly apathetic Americans) he has re-sharpened the razor he used so skilfully in the past.
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I can understand it had a good story line and usually I'm a big fan of Palahniuk's work but the whole book is the written in pig...Read more