Friday, 4 September 2015

'Fight Club' by Chuck Palahniuk

*This review will contain spoilers!*

The first rule of fight club is: you do not talk about fight club.
This puts me in a tricky position for writing this review, because reviewing something means talking about it, and usually in detail. I'm risking the wrath of Tyler Durden for you guys, so here goes...

'Fight Club' was the debut novel from now-esteemed author Chuck Palahniuk. If you haven't heard of it, I'll be surprised - it was adapted to a major movie that starred Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter and it was released way back in 1999. I'm very late on board this train: I've managed to avoid watching the film until after I read the book, and I've only just managed to get around to that! This meant I was going into this book knowing nothing about it, apart from the fact that soap was involved at some point in the process... The movie poster is beyond iconic. 
The novel follows our protagonist (who I will call Joe, despite the fact that his name is never explicitly stated)  - a normal, average guy. He has a good job, working with recall campaigns for a large car company, and because he knows all of the terrible things that go on behind the scenes his job security is great. He travels often, which he doesn't particularly enjoy, but he has a good apartment with lovely Swedish furniture to come home to, which sweetens the blow. The only thing that makes Joe stand out is his chronic insomnia, and the way he learns to cope with it - because his doctor tells him it's not real suffering, and you can't die by not sleeping, he decides to start spending his spare time frequenting cancer support groups to see the people who really do suffer. At one of these cancer support groups he meets Marla Singer, a woman who shows up at the weekly meeting of Remaining Men Together, his testicular cancer support group. He knows she must be faking her symptoms as much as he is, and his sense of comfort goes out of the window - his insomnia flares up worse than it has in months.
After one of these bouts of insomnia, he finds himself waking up on a beach in the middle of nowhere, confronted with the naked, sweating body of Tyler Durden. Tyler takes the time to create a giant hand made out of driftwood logs, and at one moment of the day the shadow perfectly forms - it's the only moment of perfection he can find, despite the fact that it's so fleeting. Joe is instantly drawn to Tyler, and when he returns to his home and finds his apartment blown up, it's not long before he's moving into the house that Tyler rents. 
As you can probably guess from the title, their companionable co-habitation does not last long. Joe struggles to find relief at the cancer support groups, due to Marla's constant intrusions, but when she takes an overdose and Tyler saves her life it gets even worse - she never leaves their house, so Joe feels as though she's trying to take everything from him. Meanwhile, Tyler's quickly creating fight clubs - they have one face-off in a bar car park, and the adrenaline buzz gets them both addicted to fighting, so it's not long before they're spreading the rules around and gathering more men who need somewhere to take out their frustrations. More and more fight clubs pop up, but it gets less and less satisfying, leading Tyler to create Project Mayhem - a place for the really committed members of fight club to move on to bigger and much worse things. 
I'm going to save the big twist from being ruined for you if you haven't read the book or watched the film yet, but if you've got any shred of common sense it's going to be obvious for you. During the third chapter I thought to myself "hm, I bet THAT is what's going on here!" and yep, it totally was. So if you're great at guessing things, just go with your gut instinct - you're not going to be wrong.
Despite this, is was extremely cleverly written. The psychological elements that go into this novel mean that it does feel a bit nonsensical at the end: it all ends up being a little bit unbelievable, and you feel a little hazy around the edges. However, as someone who suffered with mild insomnia for years, I can tell you that when you're going a few days without much sleep you do feel hazy and a bit confused as to what exactly is going on, so I think this is a brilliant way of really getting the reader into the characters shoes - we might get a bit confused, but not as muddled as Joe does!
I definitely enjoyed 'Fight Club' more than I thought I was going to. Everyone goes on about it being this brilliantly literary text, so I thought it was going to be much too metaphorical and artsy-fartsy for my liking. In actuality, it's much more toned down and pared back than I'd expected: Chuck Palahniuk doesn't waste any words waffling on, and just puts everything as succinctly as possible. It meant that the book was a fast-paced freefall of a read, and if I hadn't had work and Reading festival I think I could have easily read this one in one sitting - it's very hooking, and I didn't want to have to put it down. And it's not just hooking because of the action, because actually the action is rather contained - it's just the constant happenings that are compelling! There's no chapter that is boring, or doesn't have much going on: they're all as strong as each other.
As well as really enjoying the tone of the writing, I adored the characters. Despite the fact that Tyler Durden was a class A psychopath, it was impossible not to agree with him in at least some of the points that he was making, even if the way that he was exhibiting them was not the best! He could have been a brilliant president, if he hadn't been so obsessed with knocking people out and making sure everyone has scars when they die. I really loved Marla Singer - she wasn't as focal as I thought she'd be, but her over-dramatic attitude with her suicidal tendencies and her constant mood swings... She's my kind of female character, because despite all of these things she was still such a badass. She wasn't afraid to stand up for herself, and she wasn't afraid of kicking Joe or Tyler to the curb when they got out of line with her - she really knows how to take care of herself, even if she sometimes needs help to do that. Joe was the most aloof of the three main characters, because where we see everything through his eyes we also get his commentary and observations adding depth to the other two characters - something that is never returned to him. I ended up having the least strong feelings about Joe, because it was hard to care for him. In this way I very much agree with Chuck Palahniuk's likening of 'Fight Club' to 'The Great Gatsby', because I felt the same way in that - I had strong feelings about Jay Gatsby and his lover, but protagonist Nick was flat and two-dimensional. By the end of the novel my feelings towards Joe had changed, but I can't ignore the fact that - for at least three quarters of the book - I didn't really care about what happened to him.
I haven't read any other works by Chuck Palahniuk, but I'm certainly planning to! Especially if his voice stays as blunt and honest as it was in this novel. I've heard that he released 'Fight Club 2' as a graphic novel earlier this year, which I'm interested in checking out, but I'm unsure about it - the ending of the novel is cleverly written so you don't have a complete idea of what's going on, and I'm wondering if following their stories any further will just disappoint me. I'll consider it though - and if I do end up reading it you'll be the first to find out. 

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