We all know the first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club, yet we all know the infamous story of the unnamed protagonist and Tyler Durden. Chuck Palahniuk brings our favourite characters to life in Fight Club. An air of mystery, depression, and darkness fuels this novel in a fast-paced read, perfectly complimented by the minimalist style. Written at a time where your belongings owned you and masculinity was being redefined, Tyler appears to challenge society’s norms, offering a new purpose for the ‘everyman’. Nobody wants to know about your private life. Nobody asks about the bruises. Nobody talks about fight club.
This is a spoiler filled review I’m afraid… And the first rule of fight club is definitely broken!
Fight Club begins at the end. We meet the Tyler and the narrator at the top of the building, the barrel of a gun in his mouth as they wait for a building to collapse. And then it’s gone and we are in a cancer support group and the story begins. From the start of the novel I really felt like I was inside the head of the protagonist. Aided by Palahniuk’s writing style, the protagonist narrates exactly what he sees and his own dialogue is not denoted by speech marks, which puts you in the shoes of the narrator. Everything seems to be going wrong in his life, yet I couldn’t stop reading. That’s when Tyler Durden appears. Of course, having seen the film, I knew that he wasn’t a real person as such, but another personality within the protagonist. Luckily that didn’t detract from my reading experience at all. As their new friendship unfolds there are moments in the novel that hint at Tyler’s existence, like the protagonist’s vast knowledge of homemade explosives he knows because Tyler does. These were great clues to pick up on as I felt like I knew more about the protagonist than he did, in a kind of dramatic irony way. I also imagine a first time reader would frantically flick through the novel for clues after the big reveal (a bit like I did with the plot twist in Life of Pi, or how original audiences felt with The Sixth Sense!).
Not only is the concept itself interesting, but the progression of the plot had me reading for hours on end. At first, fight club seemed like a stress reliever, a weird form of therapy for the insomnia-driven protagonist. But as the plot progressed you could see Tyler taking over, gaining strength and power in the mischief and anarchy. Little by little, fight club gained popularity as basements all over the US were used for gritty fist fights, and little by little the protagonist seemed to lose control. As fight club turned into Project Mayhem, Tyler began to control every sleeping moment. This is where the book begins to differ from the film. There is no big reveal where the CCTV image shows the protagonist fighting himself and we all realise Tyler was never really there. Instead, we see the protagonist decipher the story himself, discovering that Tyler is a part of him when he spends days searching for Tyler, asking around every fight club he can find, only to be called “Sir” or “Mr Durden” himself. I can appreciate the film ending and definitely enjoyed the change, but being inside the thought process of the protagonist worked better for the novel.
Fight Club ends in an emotional scene that circles us right back to the beginning of the novel. Tyler Durden stands at the top of the building with the unnamed protagonist, the barrel of a gun shoved into his cheek. Marla and the support group friends advance from one side and the police from another. The countdown reaches zero and the building doesn’t collapse. He fires the trigger. Fight Club left me wanting more, guessing what could have happened to the narrator and Tyler and piecing together my own ending, which is probably much more positive than what would really happen. We never know which personality survived the bullet, or where the protagonist really is, but we do know fight club will never end.
Chuck Palahniuk has succeeded in writing a book I would not hesitate to call a modern classic. The minimalist writing form complimented the aggressive plot, which explored a world of capitalism and advertising through a character whose insomnia gets really out of hand. Fight Club is a gritty, fast-paced read, making it difficult to put down. Put the movie aside and grab a copy of the book because I recommend this to everyone.