(contains spoilers. duh it’s 24 years old)
Alright, alright – so I’m a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk and I’ve never read Fight Club. This book was only written 5 years after I was born (brace yourself – these book reviews might become even LESS timely because I read what I want, damnit.) What in the Tyler-Durden-lickin-Marla-repenting-spitting-in-rich-peoples-food-Sam-hell-is-this?
I don’t know why I never read it. Maybe because I really loved the film and I figured the novel couldn’t measure up to it. Or maybe it was because of this unconscious aversion I have to things I ‘should have’ read by now, or ‘should watch’ – Tiger King fans, I’m looking at you.
Fully aware that this is a very alienating and sanctimonious aversion, but I just can’t help it.
So, finally cracked the spine of Fight Club (well, the digital spine of my ebook) and sat down to drink in the marvellous Chuck Palahniuk-ness of this, his seminal work. My friends, I finished it pretty bummed.
Maybe I’d built it up in my head, and maybe I was looking for the familiar ebb and flow of the film – but my conclusion was that Fight Club’s storyline just makes for a better cinematic piece than a novel (even when the novel is clearly written to be filmic.)
It was thrilling in a way to see the teachings that Chuck gives in ‘Consider This: The moments in my writing life after which everything was different’ used quite clearly, in black and white, to drive the story. It’s been a good few years since I properly studied literature, and even then it wasn’t the study of creative writing, so it was cool to see some of his biggest advice used systematically and carefully, in what is otherwise a book with a plot that careens all over the place.
- Not only does he include the sacrifice of the secondary character (Big Bob) at the end of the second act, he also includes the murder of the rebel and the sacrifice of the ‘good guy’. Spoiler alert – he stands out from this time-old structure by making them the same person!
- He builds a new world order. Invites you into a club with new rules, and invites you to learn them and share them. To that end, he:
- Implements the ‘chorus’. The repetitive phrase that marks the movement to the next scene, keeping your audience engaged while setting out expectation and natural pauses
- Uses lists to give authority to the author and the narrator
- Setting himself a clock to finish the novel by, from the very moment the book begins with the countdown to the bomb going off
- Ends dialogue with active verbs (I get a little nauseous when I hear them used now because of Trump, but they’re very effective in adding a punch to the end of a sentence)
- Has the characters to address themselves in third person where they can pass particularly harsh judgement i.e. Marla shouting to the police sent to her suicide scene that: “The girl is infectious human waste”.
- Making each chapter work as a standalone piece (in fact, the whole book was spawned from a short story about waiters soiling their rich customer’s food), eliminating the presence of any unnecessary detail.
And I do firmly believe, having read his book on writing, that this is fantastic advice. These are all ways in which we can improve your writing – but funnily enough, I didn’t see it realised as expertly as I’d hoped. Well, it was 24 years ago, he was just warming up, I hear you cry. Yeah, yeah. And his later works have shown that he is capable of implementing this in a much more natural way – for example, his work ‘Choke’ which remains one of my favorites. However, as you can see by my previous review for ‘Damned’, he can miss the mark in his pursuit for quirky writing.
Chuck mentions himself in ‘Consider This’, that reviewers of Fight Club initially told him they would get super frustrated with the plot and writing style, on occasion literally throwing the book across the room, and then returning to it because they had to know how it ended. I’m not sure you should ever write something that makes reviewers want to get as far away from your book as possible, even if you do return to it out of curiosity. The reading experience wasn’t particularly pleasurable, and on a few occasions I put it down without wanting to finish it at all.
Countdowns in particular were a little overdone in this novel. From the start, it is clear that things are ramping towards a conclusion (the minutes ticking down to the moment the bomb explodes), but it is repeated at every opportunity, for multiple reasons until it actually starts to lose its potency. By the end, I was willing the countdown to finally end so that I could finish the book.
However, there are bits of writing within Fight Club which absolutely sparkle – from the narrator identifying singular parts of the body to identify with multiple times over the course of the book, out of a stack of newspapers, “I am Joe’s raging bile duct”, to Marla’s unapologetic darkness, “I want to have your abortion”, to shreds of wisdom, “It’s your life and it’s ending one minute at a time”, to the singular scenes such as the waiters and the hold up where Tyler convinces a barkeep to go to veterinary school. All things which feel original, and weighted and brimming with potential.
Unfortunately, the rest of the novel just didn’t do it for me. Sorry teacher.