The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk

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‘A fathers decades-long search for a missing daughter. A young woman about to perfect the darkest art. The most dangerous secret Hollywood has ever kept.’

Chuck is back (after leaving us with his writing memoir – Consider This) with a scintillating new novel, a slow burn that burns bright and long and loud. Fans of his novels Lullaby, Fight Club, Invisible Monsters and Choke will dig this offering as it gleans the very best of each of these books; stuffing them all in the blender. The amalgamation is intoxicating, the aroma a sweet and alluring offering that screams for the reader to jump right in and offer themselves up to the spinning blades at the stories heart – turning them into a bloodied mess by the turning of that last page. You’ll remember where you were when you read this book, as it’ll scar you, maim you and leave you disfigured to your very core.

I first learned about the premise of this book when I watched The Joe Rogan Experience a while back – Chuck was on there talking all things books and discussing his writing process (it’s over two hours long and I’d highly recommend watching it) and he dropped some news about a project that he was working on which included a lot of research into the drug Ambien; he went on to talk about people taking it and waking up at the top of a building balanced on a ledge without remembering how they got there, and that people were taking it and actually committing murder without knowing it.

The Ambien seemed to push the blood through her veins a bit faster. The typical side effect had started, the mania. Before conking out, people on Ambien reportedly binged on ice cream. They went on internet or cabletelevision shopping sprees. Engaged in marathon sex with strangers. Even committed murder. Murders for which they’d later be acquitted because they had no memory of the event.

That was crucial, to have no memory of the event.

The novel starts at breakneck speed, with Palahniuk dropping us straight into the action – we follow one of our main protagonists Gates Foster, who’s had to watch his daughter age on the back of milk cartons rather than how it should be, in person – each year another computer generated representation of what she looks like greats him and the anger eats him up inside, each year that passes she still remains missing.

The opening has us following Foster as he heads into the fray, trying to catch a paedophile who’s dragging a girl onto a plane, possibly selling her into the sex trade, maybe it’s just an abduction or the calm placid way she goes with him, it could be Stockholm Syndrome – you see Foster now hunts these paedophiles; wants to make each and every one of them pay for his daughters abduction, to help with the pain that chews him up at nighttime, the despair that he downs himself in – whatever the cost, he’ll have his vengeance.

Mitzi is our other protagonist, a foley artist. For those who don’t know what that is they’re the people that are responsible for dubbing in the sound to films – from the clinks of glasses, rattling chains, the neck twisting in the Exorcist (that was actually a leather wallet with bank cards in it being twisted), stabbings, bludgeonings, screams, breaking bones, death rattles – you can see where this is going. Mitzi is your go to person in the industry, a professional who’ll go to any lengths to create her masterpiece – and she’s almost there, she just needs a few more people to immortalise on tape and then she’ll make the whole world scream.

‘Stabbing, Mitzi could write a book about. For example, why some killers kept stabbing for so long. Only the first thrust is intended to inflict pain. The subsequent twenty, thirty, forty stab wounds are to resolve the suffering. It takes as little as one jab or slash to trigger the screaming and bleeding. But so many more are required to make them stop.’

What I love about Palahniuk is that he goes there, goes where some writers fear to tread, the road less travelled, pulling the filth of our world into his writings, dredging the darkest parts of humanity into the light and displaying it in such visceral and elegant prose that he makes art out of the sordid and messed up lives. Palahniuk gives voice for the downtrodden, and displays our deepest are darkest fears, urges, and horrors for the world to see; forcing us to sit up and take notice – and in doing so, time and time again he pokes his head up above the parapet whatever the cost or the blowback, he just wants to tell the story his way however dark and disturbing it might be.

Palahniuk shouts the things we are too scared to whisper.

The Invention of Sound is raw, urgent and compelling reading – what I loved about this particular offering from Palahniuk is that his writing seems to have changed, he’s always been a bankable author, has a huge cult following and various film adaptations; but with The Invention of Sound Palahniuk showcases what a great writer he truly is – his prose is mesmerising, and that coupled with an imagination that seems to know no bounds, this could be his greatest offering since he burst onto the literary scene.

The Invention of Sound has a dark heart of horror beating within its pages, uncanny, expertly paced and with a creeping unease that is sewn throughout the very fabric of the story – it’s horror and it’s so good. The final third of the book actually had me reminiscing about the horror, unease and the shock I felt when I first read American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis).

For me though, it’s the human aspects of the book that sets it apart from so many of his other titles; with the fathers quest to find his daughter, his grief and the perseverance and the devastation that flows from him – and then we throw the complexities of Mitzi into the mix with her own dark familial past that haunts her every move – and you’ve got two protagonists that are truly unforgettable and a story that you can drown yourself in.

Having said all of this, there was one thing that caused me some issues. I’m not sure if it was the ARC copy I read or if it’s going to be the final version of the book the way Palahniuk wants to tell it. But I struggled, the two main protagonists lives mingle on the page as much as they do in the story and I’d be reading about one character and then in the next paragraph it’s told from the other point of view – to be honest for the first thirty pages it really jarred me out of the story and I’d find myself having to stop and re-reading to fully understand who was talking – but once it clicked I flew through the book. As I said it might be the way it is supposed to be read and written (what with the ambien element – a dream within a dream not knowing what’s going on) and if so I tip my hat to you Palahniuk!

But nevertheless The Invention of Sound is a stunning offering from Palahniuk and one that will have people screaming for more of his words – and maybe Mitzi might just find that one perfect scream to set the world on fire!

The Invention of Sound is published by Grand Central Publishing and is available here.


Chuck Palahniuk has been a nationally bestselling author since his first novel, 1996’s Fight Club, was made into the acclaimed David Fincher film of the same name. Palahniuk’s work has sold millions of copies worldwide. He lives outside Portland, Oregon.
You can read our review of Consider This here.
You can read our review of Adjustment Day here.
You can read our interview with Chuck Palahniuk here.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery


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