Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk – Reviewed by Guy Portman
The protagonist, who remains nameless, is an insomniac leading a bland corporate existence, investigating accidents for a car company, whose only concern is profit. Unable to find meaning in a faceless consumerist society, he instead seeks solace in support groups, for a wide range of potentially terminal diseases, including testicular cancer and brain parasites, ailments which he himself is not afflicted with. He is not alone in masquerading as the seriously ill: there is also Marla, a dysfunctional nihilist with a deeply troubled past, whose presence at these gatherings he resents.
Everything changes abruptly when our main character meets Tyler Durden, a fervent anarchist, who works as a projectionist and waiter. Tyler is hellbent on creating mayhem at every opportunity, even during his working hours, when he can be found inserting obscene images onto film reels and urinating in his hotel’s wealthy clients’ soups.
Tyler, whose belligerent attitude towards social norms is matched only by his organisational skills and leadership abilities, forms a fight club. Every Sunday during the early hours men congregate to fight one-on-one in basements and car lots. These disenfranchised young men were brought up with absent fathers and fed on a diet of mass media that led them to believe they would be superstars. It is only now that they have come to the realisation that their destiny is to toil in low paid blue-collar positions and office jobs, devoid of meaning. These angry individuals, now empowered by Fight Club are ready to bring about Tyler’s dream of returning the world to a hunter-gatherer society. Our protagonist had until his introduction to Fight Club been a co-operative and meek employee, but now he typifies this response and casts a sinister presence in the office, constantly bruised, bloodied and with the permanent fixture of a hole through his cheek. The Fight Club phenomena soon becomes a frenzy, with new clubs forming throughout the country and Tyler finds his dream of bringing about social dissolution gaining momentum, as his plans evolve into self-destruction and terrorism with Project Mayhem. However we discover that all is not what it initially appears to be when a revelation alters the protagonist’s understanding and reaction to the unfolding events.
Palahniuk takes us on a journey through a dark, menacing and brutal world that mirrors the film it inspired almost exactly. Fight Club is nothing if not controversial and the constant violent descriptions, nihilism and references to subjects such as human soap and descriptions of disease will not be to every reader’s liking. However whatever our personal opinion may be on these matters, it is widely accepted that Fight Club proves to be adept at both exploring the very nature of violent behaviour and commenting on society at large.