0258 | Choke – Chuck Palahniuk


Context: The blossom was out in force as I worked my way through this one.

I kind of wish I’d take Palaniuk up on his advice in the opening line. This book was a bit of a puzzle to me. I couldn’t really figure out what he was trying to achieve. It was a bit like a piece of modern art that everyone raves about, but secretly, inside, no one thinks is any good. I’ve read enough Easton Ellis not to be too impressed with Palahniuk’s offering here.

Victor Mancini is a man with problems. He’s a sexaholic and estranged from a mother who never really raised him and who he now lives to support in an old-people’s home. He’s not a very happy character. The timeline jumps around from the present with flashbacks to his childhood which are told in third person (part of his attempt to distance the child from the adult?) and there’s no real cohesion.

I think the novel is trying to challenge ideas of what sanity is, what normal is and to perhaps challenge behavioural boundaries that society seems to arbitrarily defend. I’m not sure that the book deals with all this very convincingly to me because Victor is clearly at least a few keys short of the whole QWERTY. The world as he sees it is hardly a viable alternative.

Palahniuk owes a lot to the writings of Saul Bellow I feel. Herzog is a masterpiece and Choke a very distant relation. Glamorama and, in particular, American Psycho also gave Palahniuk a lot of his ideas. Even Underworld had elements which he’s borrowed although how that novel could inspire anyone to do anything except take some Valium is beyond me.

So, in summary, I think this deserves it’s place on the list of books removed from the 1001 list. I don’t think Choke has contributed anything to US literature that it didn’t have enough of already.


“Sobriety is okay enough,” Denny says, “but someday, I’d like to live a life based on doing good stuff instead of just not doing bad stuff. You know?”

You could put most of these folks [in an old-people’s home] in front of a mirror and tell them it’s a television special about old dying miserable people, and they’d watch it for hours.

Ten times out of ten, a guy means I love this [when he says I love you].

When it comes down to a choice between being unloved and being vulnerable and sensitive and emotional, then you can just keep your love.


If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.


Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins of the dark, what we build could be anything.


Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement
Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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  1. Great book blog…something I can certainly aspire to! Not sure if I agree entirely with your portrait of Choke – I thought the set-up of narrator as Messiah as determined by his mother to be the ‘main thread’ of narrative.
    But yes, I do find too much Palahniuk a little immature if taken in too large of a dose. Survivor is my favourite Palahniuk read.
    Off to explore more of your blog…

  2. thanks for the kind comments. The messiah thread seemed a side-line to me and one that didn’t really flow with everything else. I’ll look out for Survivor.

  3. Palahniuk makes me want to poke sharp objects into my eye-bones. I read Fight Club, and liked it- though I did enjoy the movie more, which is rare. Then I read Invisible Monsters and a few others and it’s like the man has a formula. Icky Icky topics + SHOCK value + suprise ending = idolatrous following of disaffected teens. Bleh.

  4. So many times I have picked up these Palahniuk books from the bookstore shelf — leafed through them, and put them back. They always seem, I don’t know, a bit TOO out there for me. They give off an aura of too much modern-bizarreness for my taste. Your review of this one sort of hints to me that the author’s opening sentence confirms my own intuition.

    1. “a bit TOO out there for me”… yep that seems a fair summary for me too. That modern-bizarreness isn’t too pleasant and I find and I don’t think Palahniuk has the skill to carry it off.

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