by Chuck Palahniuk

Itís difficult to describe the excitement of holding the latest novel of one of your favourite authors in your grubby mitts. The anticipation of a wild ride to some far flung part of their imagination, with you having front row seats. You stare upon that first page, relishing its turning, then another and another.

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

Occasionally though, that first page can be an almighty slap in the face. You might even read it again, but all you get is slapped once more for your troubles. You check the cover, and yes, it really is by one of your favourite writers. And then you feel it with the speed of turning on a light; what you feel is your heart sinking, and itís dropping like a thermometer in the South Pole.

Yes, this was the exact experience when confronted with Palahniukís Pygmy. Itís his tenth fictional novel, joining a grizzly and dark canon of work. Itís certainly a departure for him, labelled as it is, a comedy.

The premise is also intriguing. Pygmy is the nickname given to Agent number 67, a diminutive foreign spy, who arrives in the US as an exchange student. While undercover, he has to engage himself with his Midwestern host family and take part in their everyday lives. Meanwhile, he is also initiating plans to bring Operation Havoc into play.

At this point it still appears a must-read, what could possibly go wrong?

Voice, thatís what. Itís very, very wrong. Pygmyís first language is clearly not English, making his reports really tedious to read. A few authors have made their gibberish novels quite entertaining, and you would put a weekís wages on Palahniuk being able to do the same. This would lead to you eating nothing but value cornflakes for said week.

The heart of the problem is that Pygmyís voice is so utterly devoid of personality. Itís written in a style as if a recipe for lasagne, written in Japanese, had been translated into English by a free online translation application. Thatís how much sense it makes. Itís also no fun at all to read. Possibly if you work really hard, this novel could then reveal itself to be a curious challenge to complete. But if youíre easily distracted, you could often find yourself looking for escapism from reading it. Itís quite useful if you hate facing mundane chores; after a page or two theyíll seem the most entertaining jobs in the world to do.

Mr P has to be given credit for at least venturing outside of his uniquely warped comfort zone. But itís difficult to feel nothing other than an overwhelming sense of disappointment if youíre a fan of his previous work. What heís written here is completely unrecognisable as being a part of sublime set of fiction from the mind of Chuck.

Itís definitely a matter of forgive and forget as far as this novel is concerned, with the latter part of that saying being the easiest to achieve. Fingerís crossed then for novel number eleven...

one out of five