Keywords: Fiction

Title: Lullaby

Author: Chuck Palahniuk

Publisher: Vintage

ISBN: 0099437961


In the beginning was the word. And words have power, even in this, the age of the image. Words are so powerful tyrants want to control them, to shape them, to twist them and knot them so that they no longer mean what we want them to mean. Friendly fire? Collateral damage? Surgical strikes?

In Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby, words are powerful in a more direct and literal sense. Nestling in an anthology of poems for children lies a culling song. This is an old African spell that kills whoever it is spoken or directed at. Parents read this to their children and unwittingly murder them.

Streator is a reporter who begins to uncover the story, realising that the death of his wife and child were no bizarre accident but his fault. Not only that, once he discovers what the culling song can do them life becomes hell. He only has to think the words and they kill whoever he is thinking about. People around him drop like flies…

As you would expect from a Palahniuk novel, there is plenty of grim humour as the story unfolds. Streator, desperately trying to fight the urge to kill at will, begins on a journey to track down every copy of the poetry book so that he can excise the most potent set of words on the planet. But things are never very straightforward. He teams up with Helen, a woman who also killed her own child and who fully understands the power of the poem. She makes a living selling haunted houses, naturally.

Unlike previous novels, there is more of a fantasy element at work here. While the humour is still sharp and well observed (the three-bean salad scene made me laugh out loud), this somehow lacks the bite of Fight Club or Survivor. Perhaps it's that the fantasy element - ghosts, haunted houses, witches - is so central to the story that it takes too big a step away from reality from the opening page.

That's not to say that this is a poor read. Lullaby is an enjoyable read, it's funny and the story rips along nicely, it's just that Palahniuk doesn't seem to really bare his teeth with this one.

Contents © London Book Review 2006. Published April 05 2006