Book Review: “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk
Although, to be fair, I knew the spoiler before I started the book and it didn’t really spoil the book entirely.
“Fight Club” begins in the style of “Pulp Fiction”. We are at the climax of the novel with our protagonist at breaking point, standing on a building that is about to explode, with a gun in his mouth. The rest of the novel then builds up to this point and finishes a little beyond it.
The main feature of the novel is that we have an unreliable narrator. For two thirds of the novel our narrator does not understand what is happening in his life – actually, at the end of the novel he does not understand what is happening either – but at the end the reader understands, even it he doesn’t.
The novel therefore has a hazy feel throughout. We have the narration of events as our narrator sees them, then we have his moment of realization that none of the events took place as he thought. The reader, then, has the feeling that, even once things have been clarified, our narrator is unreliable, so is left in a place of doubt.
And so to the spoiler, on which the novel hangs: our narrator believes he has a friend called Tyler Durden. In reality, or so our narrator comes to believe, Tyler is not a real person. He is a psychotic force that takes over our narrator’s mind and body during his hours of sleep. The result of this is that people think the nameless character who narrates is called Tyler Durden, but the narrator thinks, for the most part, that they are separate entities.
This realization is foreshadowed with an analogy to changing reels at the movies. Tyler works as a projectionist:
“The old theaters that run a movie with two projectors, a projectionist has to stand right there to change projectors at the exact second so the audience never sees the break and one reel starts and once reel ran out.”
From the narrator’s point of view, this switching from one reel to another is seamless. When he goes to sleep at night, Tyler takes over his body and continues living almost entirely independently from our narrator. The narrator eventually realizes:
“This is a dream. Tyler is a projection. He’s a disassociative personality disorder. A psychogenic fugue state. Tyler Durden is my hallucination.”
So, what of the plot?
Our narrator lives a dull life, but meets Tyler Durden who makes life exciting. Together they start Fight Club where men meet to fight. This leads into Project Mayhem, where members of fight club begin to take part in random acts of violence and vandalism. At the same time, the narrator and Tyler live together in a rented house manufacturing soap made from human fat. The narrator still goes into work, which involves a lot of travel, and thinks he is suffering from insomnia. Tyler, meanwhile spreads the culture of Fight Club to other American cities. When the narrator becomes aware that Tyler is not real, and that his influence is destructive, he tries to undo what Tyler has done – but people think he is Tyler (which he is, really…) and threaten him with castration. The narrator realizes that the only way to rid himself of Tyler is to kill himself, which leads us back to the opening scene of the novel where the narrator has a gun in his mouth.
Having just read “The Bell Jar” and “Girl, Interrupted”, I found this novel is glaringly far-fetched in comparison. It was an interesting depiction of a split personality and showed the helplessness of the narrator in controlling all the aspects of his character. Whether or not this kind of hallucination/delusion is possible in real life is not clear from this novel. I would doubt it.
The events of the novel were bizarre – especially all the manufacturing of soap… The idea of Fight Club itself was less important than the title of the novel would imply. It was the fruit of the mind of the delusion of the narrator, and, just as Tyler was beyond his control, so was the spread and power of Fight Club and Project Mayhem.
Perhaps surprisingly, throughout the events of the novel, our narrator has a girlfriend, Marla. She is unaware that she is dating two separate entities, until the narrator explains his predicament to her:
“I love everything about Tyler Durden, his courage and his smarts. His nerve. Tyler is funny and charming and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free and I am not.
I’m not Tyler Durden.
“But you are, Tyler,” Marla says.
It is when the narrator thinks that Tyler is going to kill Marla that he has to kill Tyler, even if he has to take himself out as collateral.
So it was an interesting read, structurally. And the character was interesting structurally also. But I found the detail of the plot very odd and the character’s envy of those faced with death pretty bleak.