Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

May 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

First published in 1996

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In the new afterword that Palahniuk wrote for the 2006 Vintage UK version I have, this is what he says:

Really, what I was writing was just The Great Gatsby, updated a little. It was “apostolic” fiction — where a surviving apostle tells the story of his hero. There are two men and a woman. And one man, the hero, is shot to death.

It was a classic, ancient romance but updated to compete with the espresso machine and ESPN.

This book has been known as anything but a romance. And I don’t blame them. The details are gory, some of the acts are downright malicious, and there’s very little in there that obviously links back to the emotions and feelings that we often associate with romance—that fuzzy, wholesome, I’ll-love-you-forever kind of feeling.

But at the same time, there is also a certain charm to the broken characters in the book. Marla is almost beyond repair, and Tyler is such a tyrannic figure that you hate to love and love to hate him, yet you love-hate him anyway.

And then, of course, there’s the unnamed narrator. His version of the story is so skewed, so unreliable and so jumpy (I have no better words for this) that I often found myself wondering if he knew what he was talking about himself. He was here one minute, there the next, and he kept repeating this one phrase to justify the things he knew:

I know this because Tyler knows this.

I wouldn’t know until I’m on the last leg of the book the significance of this phrase. And I found it a stroke of genius. Suddenly everything tied back. Suddenly everything that didn’t make sense started to make some sense. Suddenly all that jumpiness was accounted for. Suddenly all the unreliability was explained.

Suddenly, I understood.

From the start of the book, the narrator painted a very unpleasant picture of Tyler. We saw all his weird and crazy ideas, his disregard for societal norms and his insistence on doing things his own way. Yet, the narrator also showed us his deep affection—an intense love, almost—for Tyler. Whether the narrator loved him for his crazy, or in spite of it, I couldn’t really tell. The narrator was drawn to Tyler, attached to him somehow, and because of this push-pull relationship, he also developed a love-hate feeling for the man.

In that way, it was very different from The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway, the narrator, painted such beautiful pictures of Gatsby and Daisy, I couldn’t help but fall in love with them. In hindsight, both Gatsby and Daisy are also very much broken and a little wretched, but reading Nick’s narration of his time spent with those characters was like reading a fluffy romance. Everything was just so beautiful.

But the characters in Gatsby, like the characters in Fight Club, are equally damaged. And to make this kind of comparison, to put these two books side by side and think of how they are similar or different, gave me a slight shiver. The line between hate and love, between the light and dark sides, is so thin and invisible, it could very well not be there. A slight change in perspective, a small shift in the angle, and it’s a completely different narrative.

The Tyler character in Fight Club is an anarchist through and through. It makes me want to read V For Vendetta. Just for comparison.

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In the Afterword, Palahniuk mentions that Fight Club started out as a short story. Seven pages worth, all in Chapter 6. I reread that chapter, and I can definitely see how that is the anchor from which the whole book grew.

This is a book that will stay with you.

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