The Invention of Sound

By Chuck Palahniuk

The Invention of Sound, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Book details

Sound can be powerful, get the tone right or the volume loud enough and you can cause real damage. There are skyscrapers that have been built that hum when the wind perfectly hits the building to make it vibrate. The worse thing that happens here is an annoying sound when the wind blows in the wrong direction and a few confused birds. It does not cause dogs to howl and people to scream. It does not make the walls shake and the roof collapse. It does not make ears bleed and brains explode. Only a twisted mind like Chuck Palahniuk could invent that type of sound. 

Mitzi is a Foley Artist, a hidden auteur who influences the movies by sound. Her job is to match the what people are seeing, with what they think they should be hearing. Her speciality is screams; powerful, visceral, realistic. Her work is so good that secret bidding wars among producers will break out should a particularly good holler come to the market. A scream such as one that evoked the Walls of Jericho. A sound so haunting it can kill. Meanwhile Foster Gates is a broken man whose daughter went missing decades earlier. During a film he hears a scream he believes sounds familiar. Foster goes out to hunt down the hidden Foley Artist to try and discover what screams are made of.     

I have read almost all of Palahniuk’s output and each time you must gird your loins. The Invention of Sound is no different as it cuts so close to the bone that it hits the marrow. The main characters of Foster and Mitzi are the typical broken people that Palahniuk specialises in. One is haunted by the mistake he made that lost his daughter, while the other lives in a drug induced neverland undertaking sick experiments that she cannot even remember. If you have empathy with either character, the book can be hard to read in places. Abuse and the death of a child are explored. As a parent or victim, this writing will hit home hard.  

Palahniuk sets out to provoke and create a react and this is certainly the case. It is part of what makes his books so compelling and different to read. He is also happy to play with the medium. Known for general fiction, Palahniuk has played with fantasy and science fiction elements before. Sound has this strange and ethereal element to the book that is pure horror. What if someone invented a sound so pure that it caused others to join in the harmony. These combined voices create vibrations that destroy and kill. This is pure speculative fiction, but all played through the prism of the author’s style. The matter is not tackled head on, but implied and talked around. It makes for a very disturbing and interesting read as you try and figure out what is going on. 

Even more than other books by Palahniuk, Sound is a book that concentrates on characters and not the narrative. Fans of the traditional form will become frustrated with the meandering start and middle, but if you allow yourself to appreciate the atmosphere there is a lot here to enjoy. If enjoy is the right word. The book is packed full of ideas and concepts that will make you think. These will be uncomfortable at times, but so many books come and go. Sound lacks the solid core of the very best that the author has written, but still has plenty of merit, especially for a fan. If you are interested in a supernatural tale from the author, I recommend the sublime Lullaby, a book that still haunts me almost twenty years after reading it for the first time.  

Written on 5th September 2020 by .

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The Invention of Sound