You are here

Book review: <i>Choke</i> by Chuck Palahniuk

Ever wondered about the motivations of a screwed up sex addict with a penchant for making people feel needed and a need to be loved? Choke is a tale of addiction, mothers, best friends, faking the eighteenth century, and weird doctors—with a little bit of religion thrown in.

The story

Victor Mancini has problems. He might be a sex addict. Well, he attends the meetings. Kind of. He works in the eighteenth century with his best friend, Denny. His mother, Ida, with whom he had a somewhat tumultuous on-again-off-again childhood, is dying of starvation in a hospice and doesn’t even recognise him. But all the other women in the hospice do... as some demon or another from their past. And Victor can’t keep Ida in her expensive private hospital on the wage of an Irish indentured servant, so he makes his money by filling a void in other people’s lives.

Enter Dr Paige Marshall, Ida’s new doctor. Victor is smitten with Paige... so much so that he can’t seem to bring himself to have sex with her. And Paige has a solution to Ida’s slow death, but Victor isn’t sure he can bring himself to do that either. Then, Paige tells Victor she’s uncovered the secrets in Ida’s past, secrets relating to Victor himself.

Meanwhile, Denny’s found a cure for his sex addiction. Collecting rocks, one rock for every day he’s chaste. Soon Victor’s house is becoming crowded with rocks, and Denny has a new addiction. Everything’s getting a little out of hand. Can Victor find the answer to everyone’s future in his past?

The style

I have to say straight out that I wasn’t quite as impressed with Choke as I was with either Diary or Lullaby respectively. With Diary particularly, I devoured the whole thing in a couple of hours. It was a real page turner. However, with Choke, it was almost like I had to keep reminding myself that that was what I was reading. Not that it wasn’t well written, because it was very Chuck Palahniuk stylistically and thematically. But, for me, it just didn’t engage quite as well as some of his others.

Choke is written in the first person; the narrator being Victor Mancini. He narrates his present as himself, but for any flashbacks to his childhood, which unfold throughout the book to piece together the story between he and his mother, he uses the third person but addresses the reader directly. This creates the sense of his distancing his current self from his childhood self, who he doesn’t like very much, and also distances the current state of Ida, who is weak and dying, from “the mommy” of his childhood, who was monstrously bizarre. The actual storytelling techniques are extremely effective, and Victor’s very honest approach to narration gives the reader a sense of empathy with a character who is actually extremely unlikable.

I, personally, think that there were two reasons I wasn’t so keen on Choke. Firstly, there were anti-feminist male-rebellion overtones that just rubbed me the wrong way. Now, I’ve never thought Palahnuik, as an author, was sexist; his presentation of women is sensitive and well done usually. So it’s probably only the character of Victor, rather than the author, I’m having the issue with. And maybe I’m just being over sensitive, but I found some of Victor’s attitudes somewhat grating. The second was because it was just so... dirty. Not the explicit sexual content; let’s face it, sex scenes are insanely hard to write without embarrassing your reader with how badly written they are, but Chuck Palahniuk knows what he’s doing and does it well. No. It was more that the whole story, while there were themes of redemption with in it, just seemed too dark, and desolate, and generally irredeemable for my tastes. And, while I hate to say it, I was reminded of some of Irvin Welsh’s later stuff while reading Choke. The whole thing just left me with a bad taste in my mouth and, while that may have been Palahniuk’s intention, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.

Who is this book for?

On the upside, it’s better than Irvin Welsh. So I guess if you’re looking for something gritty combined with something weird combined with something a bit discomforting, Choke is your book. And, if you’re a Palahniuk fan, you should definitely try it.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Try Palahniuk’s later work, like Diary or Lullaby. And of course, there’s the cult classic Fight Club, and the supremely enjoyable Survivor...

In short


Title: Choke
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Anchor
Year published: 2001
Pages: 304
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
Review Type: