Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Book Review 11: Lullaby



Book Title: Lullaby
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Genre: Adventure/ Supernatural
Number of Pages:  260
Personal Rating: 4/10 
Reading Difficulty: Medium (3/5)

Book Summary:

Ever heard of a culling song? It's a lullaby sung in Africa to give a painless death to the old or infirm. The lyrics of a culling song kill, whether spoken or even just thought. You can find one on page 27 of Poems and Rhymes from Around the World, an anthology on the shelves of libraries across the country. When reporter Carl Streator discovers that unsuspecting readers are reading the poem and accidentally killing their children, he begins a desperate cross- country quest to put the culling song to rest and save the nation from certain disaster. Written with a style and imagination that could only come from Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby is the latest outrage from one of our most exciting writers at work today. 

Personal Insights:

Almost everyone have read books that they simply cannot forget-- because it's nice, it's ugly, it's haunting or it'splainly disturbing. I have read books that I immediately loved like Anne Rice's "The Vampire Armand" and I have also read books that I simply abhorred like "The Road to Nowhere" and "The Book of Skulls." What I'm saying is that I find it easy to  rate books; if I love it or hate it. But my affinity for this book, "Lullaby", is ambivalent. Yes, I WILL remember this book because it is very unique, but it's a little bit disturbing... 


Before delving further into the intricacies of this book's elements, let me tell you something about it. The story is mainly about two people who accidentally stumbled upon this powerful 'culling song" and got a little bit carried away in using it. A culling song is mainly used in Africa to either make a baby sleep or help ease the pain of a dying person. The protagonist of the story (or maybe he's an antagonist?), Carl Streator, learns the hard way that the culling song he accidentally memorized actually has the ability to kill people. He is then joined by a colorful set of characters in his quest to rip off page 27 from the 500+ published copies of the book entitled "Poems and Rhymes from Around the World" to stop the killings.


Basically, that is the whole plot of this book. It kind of has this "Death Note" kind of ring to it. Just like Kira of Death note, the main characters of this book, Carl Streator and Helen Hoover Boyle, were also equipped with a similar otherworldly killing tool. Soon, they also start to abuse the power that they have and the conflict between their interests makes them want to turn against one another. It soon becomes apparent that the main theme of the story is that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely.' 

Just like I said before, that is what this whole story is all about. Nothing special since there are plenty of stories that explore this kind of subject matter, power struggle. I would have to say that excluding the plot, the top three things that made this book special (at least for me) are the following: first, the literary elements it made use of. Second, the morality and social issues tackled and third,the clashing nature of the striking characters. 


For the literary elements, Chuck Palahniuk has this distinctive prose style. There are recurring words, themes and paragraphs spread out in the whole book. For instance, there are several chapters or parts in this book that start with Carl Streator's cynical monologue, "These quietophobes. These music-oholics. These calm-ophobics." When Carl Streator starts to say this, you immediately get the idea that he's getting hot- tempered and he's having difficulty controlling the thought of using the culling song. 

Another example of the recurring words or phrases is how the story gets broken up with Oyster's ridiculous newspaper ads such as this one: "Attention Patrons of the Oracle Sushi Palace, if you experience severe rectal itching caused by intestinal parasites, you may be eligible to take part in a class-action lawsuit... Denton, Daimler and Dick, Attorneys-at-Law." Furthermore, I also noticed that there are parts in the book that recount fantastical stories of talking cows, crawling ivy menaces, roadkill Jesus and other stuff that you think don't make sense, but eventually fall into the story's pattern near the end. This is definitely something that I'm not used to reading. I like it for its ingenuity, but sometimes, I become confused because of the way it cuts into the flow of the story. 


I also mentioned that I find Chuck Palahniuk's way of tackling morality and social issues special. I mentioned before that the main theme of this book is, 'absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Even though Carl vehemently denied that he would not kill people purposely in the start of the story, he eventually succumbed to the lure of his dark power. By presenting a 'power struggle' situation, Chuck Palahniuk was able to show how fragile the human mind is, toying between the idea of what they think is wrong and right. In a way, there is also something philosophical about this work. Just take a look at my favorite excerpts below like this one, "Maybe you don't go to hell for the things you do. Maybe you go to hell for the things you don't do." This book would be a good companion to Paulo Coelho's "The Devil and Ms. Prym" because it both explores morality issues in the face of having power within your hands.


Let's move on to the characters. All of them have such strong personalities! I love the way Helen was contrasted with Carl; Helen's this comical rich and controlling pink- haired woman while Carl is this plain-looking man with anger management issues. All throughout the book, they are contrasted not just in terms of their appearance, but also in their interests and ideas in using the culling song. To make matters more difficult for the two, they are joined by the youngsters Mona and Oyster. Mona is the hippie secretary of Helen who is a member of a coven while Oyster is Mona's abrasive and cynical boyfriend. All four of them make up a very dysfunctional 'family' which made their task of finding the book harder instead of easier.


In the end, I still have not decided whether I like or love this book. I appreciate its originality and thought- invoking theme, but I'm not sure about the progression of the story and other factors... The story is just so dark that it reminded me of the disturbing feeling I got when I read my least favorite book, "The Road to Nowhere." So, if you'll ask me if I would recommend this book, I am not sure and I am sorry for that. But, if you're looking for some contemporary literature, then go ahead and appreciate the structure of this story.


Favorite Excerpts

The problem with every story is you tell it after the fact.

There are worse things you can do to the people you love than kill them. The regular way is just to watch the world do it. Just read the newspaper.

Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

In a world where vows are worthless. Where making a pledge means nothing. Where promises are made to be broken, it would be nice to see words come back into power. 

Maybe you don't go to hell for the things you do. Maybe you go to hell for the things you don't do. The things you don't finish. 

The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up.

Spells to attract lovers were called agogai in Ancient Greek. Curses to ruin relationships were called diakopoi. 

Every generation wants to be the last. Every generation hates the next trend in music they can't understand. We hate to give up those reins of our culture.... To find our generation's clothes and hair suddenly retro.

You can forget me, but that doesn't mean I don't exist.-- Oyster

The best way to waste your life is by taking notes. The easiest way to avoid it living is just to watch. Look for the details. Report. Don't participate. 

I need to rebel against myself. It's the opposite of following your bliss. I need to do what I most fear.-- Carl Streator


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