book club, review

Book Club #6 – Fight Club

If you ask people around you about Fight Club, chances are they’ve seen the film (or know about the film, at least), but they don’t really know there’s a book out there. Go ahead, ask the people around you, and let me know if I’m right.

Being 100% honest here, I didn’t know there was a book as well, or rather, I forgot. I think I found out by chance years ago, but my brain didn’t really keep that information. When one of the attendees to the book club suggested it, I thought it would be a great idea! As a side note here, the book club we’re running at work is small but we are a very engaged group!

I finished reading Fight Club ages ago. It was the first book I read on my Kindle, and I’m now reading my sixth book (I received the Kindle about a month and a half ago!) and so I was a bit worried I wasn’t going to remember many things for the book club meeting.

I can’t remember when exactly I watched the film, either for the first time, or the last one. I know it’s one of the relatively few films I own in DVD. The film found its way through the pages of the book while I was reading it, and of course, I found myself seeing Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonhan-Carter as Tyler, the Narrator and Marla.

It was interesting to read the book knowing the plot twist already from the film. If you haven’t watched the film or read the book, stop reading now. Seriously, don’t read any more, because there are major spoilers just ahead.

The main thing of the story is the fact that the Narrator has a split personality, triggered by his insomnia, and so he becomes Tyler Durden at night, when he should be sleeping. In the film, it’s not such a big thing, because well, you have two different actors playing two seemingly different characters. Sure, there are people out there who are super clever and saw it coming, but I am not, and I did not. I was clueless for most of the film. When they revealed the twist, I had to think about it a bit, possibly because my brain exploded or something.

So, that out of the way, back to the book.

First, I must say I hated how it was written. It took me a bit to get into it because I was just confused (although once I decided to ignore the style and just sort of read to get to the story, it went very quick). The story goes back and forth, and half of the time I’m not sure whether we’re in the present, the past, in the Narrator’s mind, or what’s going on. Of course, this is done on purpose (I’m guessing, anyway), because we have here the Narrator, who is suffering from insomnia, and whose life is a bit chaotic, so his storytelling needs to reflect this.

One of the key points of the story is the reference to a generation of men raised by women. The Narrator is annoyed at this, at the fact that men are not men any more, that they can’t express their most primitive urges in society, and that we live our lives like robots, really, our worth only calculated by the things we possess (a condo, a car, IKEA furniture)… The Narrator goes to help groups to help him sleep, and in one of these, he meets Bob, whose body gradually changes due to hormone treatments he’s undergoing for his cancer (and so proving to some extent the Narrator’s worry about men being less men, and becoming almost women).

In one of these meetings he meets Marla, who I pretty much hate. She’s crazy and weird, and she hates her life but does nothing to fix her problems, only does stuff to be a pain in the backside of other people. She’s one of those dramatic women you see in films, that one moment they love you with all their heart and soul and the next moment they hate you and want to scratch your eyes out.

Marla and Tyler have something going on, but the Narrator doesn’t like her. Here’s a great difference between both personalities. On one hand, we have the Narrator, who has always lived by the rules (not necessarily the fight club rules), and has ticked all he boxes: studies, career, home… but of course, he feels repressed and lost. His way of dealing with this is by creating a personality completely different from his. Tyler is outgoing and charming, he’s a go-getter, and not a pushover. He doesn’t care and just wants to do what he wants and break society, sometimes as an experiment, other times just because he can.

I read in the afterword (or the foreword, or something) that Fight Club started as a small project. Palahniuk wrote this as different situations for which the only link would be the rules. It seems even the publisher didn’t think it would sell much (they were wrong, it seems).
The rules are there so that everyone knows what’s going on, so that they can go crazy and fight each other, but still be part of a brotherhood. The problem is that Tyler has such a strong and charismatic personality that his words become the law and the space monkeys (his followers) will do whatever he asks them to, no matter what, without thinking about the consequences.

Since most of the men are missing that father figure, they need someone to look up to, and to tell them what to do and how to behave. Tyler is that person.

The Narrator seems to be trying to catch up all the time, but always being one step behind. When Project Mayhem (Tyler’s project to create chaos in society) starts going out of control, in the Narrator’s eyes anyway, he decides that he wants out. He finally discovers that Tyler is him, and he’s been doing this stuff while he thought he was asleep. We find clues here and there, like people winking at him (people he doesn’t recognise), or behaving weirdly with him, or Marla and Tyler never really being in the same room at the same time.

The problem is Tyler warned the space monkeys that he might want to get out, and they took this as another test. They kidnap the Narrator and then ensues a few situations in which you can feel the panic he feels when he keeps trying to get out, to convince them it’s always been him, and the men just keep replying he had told them he would say that, and to not listen to him no matter what. The idea of Tyler has become more important than Tyler/Narrator himself.

Whether you like this book or not, the violence it portrays, it’s a good book to make you think. Again, in the fore/after word, it’s mentioned the fact that women have a vast range of books and magazines available to them about topics ranging from knitting, to love, reading, writing, books about being a strong woman, or a sensitive woman. Women nowadays are told they can have (and should have) everything, but men are still kept in the dark ages. Men are still told they need to be strong, and provide for their women, and should never cry, and should play sports, etc. This creates a problem in society. How can men be strong and protective when women are being told they don’t need them?

Different men deal with this situation in different ways, and I’m not here to discuss what the better way of dealing is, even though I have some opinions, but that would be a topic for another day. Fight Club is a book for men, about being manly, or at least, about being some version of manly, it fills a niche. It’s a book about testosterone and doing whatever you want, regardless of what society tells you to do. The character of Marla, the only real woman in the story, is secondary. She’s there, putting a strain on the relationship between the Narrator and his idolised Tyler. She gets in the way. She’s just this crazy, needy woman who is only giving them a headache. She’s an attention seeker, completely opposite to what a man should be, in the Narrator’s eyes. Incidentally, it is Marla, a woman, who saves the Narrator in the end which, to me means that you need a balance between the adrenaline packed idea of manliness and being able to share emotions and show more traditionally feminine traits, but again, topic for a different time.

Fight Club is a great book. I spent most of the time trying to read between the lines to find clues (or mistakes) about the Narrator and Tyler being the same person, with more or less success. The style was chaotic for me, and I didn’t like that part, but Chuck Palahniuk is a great writer and even with some of my misgivings at the beginning, I ended up liking the book a lot. I probably won’t read it again, and it won’t be one of my favourite books ever, but I’m glad it made it to the book club.

The book we’re currently reading is The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson. We will have the meeting on Wednesday 6th May, and I will be posting about it shortly after, so you still have some time to read it, you won’t be disappointed!

Have you read Fight Club? What did you think about it? How do you think it reflects (or doesn’t) society? Does it worry you that a movement like Project Mayhem could take hold of certain members of society and bring chaos to our lives?