Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (first published in US by W W Norton & Co., 1996)
Introduced by Kiel Gibson
A potent mixture of black comedy and compelling themes, Fight Club was first published 22 years ago on the 17th August 1996 by American author Chuck Palahniuk.
It is the tale of a nameless, hapless Narrator who despite his white collar living and steady career, becomes afflicted with depression and insomnia. Feeling out of touch with society he happens upon a charismatic, Hemingway-style ‘man’s man’ named Tyler Durden. Tyler begins to show the Narrator a way to be free from societal pressures and reclaim his masculinity. At least that is how it appears. One night Tyler asks the Narrator to hit him as hard as he can, and soon after there comes the establishment of an underground fight club.
The fight club attracts disenfranchised males from all corners of the US, but soon fight club begins to take on a far more sinister life of its own.
This novel is an intense, fascinating examination of male identity and wider society. Every time you read this novel you get something new from it, but what struck me at first was how initially attractive fight club was.
Alright, maybe I should clarify that I’m not an advocate for underground fight clubs. But I as a young male, specifically one who has a visual impairment, have felt uncertain of my place in society. Fight club engages males through combat simulation, in a similar way that taking up martial arts might.
The bouts seem to teach the males within fight club that despite how badly they are beaten, they can overcome the pain and survive. There is also an emphasis on respect and safety which again makes it seem appealing. It is later on that we begin to see something much darker beneath all of that.
At first you could see it as a way of reclaiming one’s traditionally preconceived notions of masculinity. That is to overcome pain and having a willingness to do what has to be done to survive. Which is good. Then people start getting brainwashed, and eventually killed.
It seems appealing at first and part of that is Tyler’s charisma, but soon we discover that Tyler’s philosophy is an extreme. Unlike the movie adaptation we clearly see that people are being hurt by Tyler and his followers. Though Palahniuk reveals this gradually so as to keep up an air of mystery.
It is an interesting comment on masculinity as it seems to suggest that expression through physicality is not actually a bad thing as long as respect is there, and terms are mutually agreed upon through rules and structure. Much like the etiquette one may find in a karate class for example. Which is why the Narrator and we as the audience go with it.
But Tyler’s philosophy is revealed to be manipulative and reliant on deliberate, violent enforcement. Aspects of “masculine” behaviour that are extremes and not healthy for anyone.
It is an interesting journey and I think that for male readers in particular, you will learn things about yourself, and not all of it is good. Though masculinity is only one of several themes one can draw from the text.
I don’t want to spoil things for you but I will go through a few things.
A weaker point of the novel is that although it is an engaging reading, there are some characters who personally made little to no impact on me.
Even the Narrator every now and again can be tedious to follow. Though to be fair that was probably the intention at times.
The things that make this novel worth a read or several, is that despite the fast pace there are so many things you can keep going back to. It’s entertaining, thought provoking and can be reinterpreted time and time again.
The writing is wonderfully presented to us by Palahniuk, the story is not predictable and it does make you ask a lot of questions about yourself, as well as the world around you. There is a lot to like and a lot to be chewed over so I would definitely recommend reading it.
I’d give this a 3 out of 5 stars. If you like this I would recommend Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction. Both authors are brilliant at producing fiction that is thought provoking and have great entertainment value.
Kiel Gibson is a student at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford.
This post is part of the #BlindBookworms series by blind and visually impaired (VI) readers for The Story of Books.