The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club – but where would be the fun in that? Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel – which began its publication career as a short story of the same name in the 1995 anthology, Pursuit of Happiness – has spawned not only David Fincher’s iconic movie, but a whole cult following for Palahniuk and his underground boxing creations.
Tyler Durden, Marla Singer, the Mischief Committee and Project Mayhem – they’ve all entered the hipster vernacular. I am Jack’s Complete Lack of Surprise, as the nameless narrator might say: after all, both book and film are modern classics. If you haven’t already read the book, though, you’re in for a treat, and here’s five teasers to get you motivated.
1. It will make you think about a man’s role in the world
Fight Club is an extraordinary examination of male alienation in a passive, consumer-driven world that the narrator associates with the feminization of culture: ‘We’re a generation of men raised by women.’ But, of course, it’s not really that simple: rather than simply presenting the macho world of underground boxing and male-on-male contact as a positive counterforce to the negative influence of women, Palahniuk shows that Tyler’s hardcore boys-own world is just as unappealing.
So while Fight Club isn’t (and shouldn’t be) immune from feminist criticism (the film totally fails the Bechdel test, for a start), it does demonstrate that a polarised view of the roles of men and women is indubitably a bad Thing. It’s guaranteed to get you thinking about the way society expects men to behave, and even if you don’t like Palahniuk’s conclusions, we love the way it never fails to spark debate.
2. It will make you question consumer culture
Gender roles aside, Fight Club does give us a deliciously scathing critique of consumer culture – Ikea, in particular, gets a thorough mauling. And while we like our flat-pack furniture and our internet shopping, we can’t say that we disagree with the narrator: ‘the things you used to own, now they own you.’
Now, we can’t advocate wholesale destruction, nerve gas, car bombs and wildly anarchic split personalities – but in this post-credit-crunch economic crisis of ours, we think Palahniuk was fairly prescient when he said ‘This isn’t about love as in caring. This is about property as in ownership.’ If you’re after a critique of capitalism that’s got a little more oomph than Marx, then Fight Club’s the book for you.
3. It will make you examine your dark side
Potential big spoiler ahead, so beware: Tyler isn’t real. The whole premise of the book is that the narrator’s personality has split; Tyler’s the evil imaginary friend, the violent Hyde who turns our mild sleepwalking young office worker into a black-eyed terrorist.
Big issues aside, there’s a lot of fun to be had in working out the clues and hints that Palahniuk drops along the way, which means that as shocking and compelling as Fight Club is the first time round, there’s much to be gained from a careful reread. A book that keeps on giving!
4. It will encourage to you to read more minimalist prose
The writing is properly kick-ass. How’s this for an opener: ‘Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. For a long time though, Tyler and I were best friends.’ Eh? We dare you not to be hooked. Palahniuk’s style owes something to fellow Americans like Bret Easton Ellis and (a particular favourite of ours) Denis Johnson, and he’s definitely working in the post-Hemingway, post-carver vein of Minimalist prose.
His work is easy to read without sacrificing any thematic depth, and, if you’re a fan, he’s as prolific as they come, with fourteen books published to date and another three or so already in the pipeline, including (drumroll!) a proposed graphic novel sequel to Fight Club. Boom!
5. It will forever change the way you look at soap
To finish on a less than delicate note: you’ll certainly never look at fancy homemade soap in quite the same way again after you read Fight Club. Tyler’s surreptitious appropriation of liposuction waste and kitchen-table distillation processes aren’t for the faint-hearted. The narrator warns you straight up: ‘This how-to stuff isn’t in any history book.’ But, hey – this is a book that lightly references brain parasite support groups, so what did you expect?
(You’ve ordered your copy already, haven’t you? I know this because Tyler knows this….)
Joel Willans is the founder of Ink Tank and author of the short story collection, SPELLBOUND: Stories of Women’s Magic over Men. His prize-winning fiction has been broadcast on BBC radio and published in dozens of magazines and anthologies worldwide. You can find him on Twitter and Ello.