The protagonist of this story, who remains unnamed throughout, is a white-collar worker who is totally dissatisfied with his life – not just his job, but his whole way of life, which is also our way of life. Having your own appartment, owning lots of meaningless stuff, being a worker drone in a soulless system. This is apparently “success.” Something is seriously wrong, and he feels it. He is desperately unhappy. As a way of making life more tolerable, he attends various group therapy meetings: testicular cancer, alcoholism, etc. Even though he has nothing wrong with him, these meetings centre him emotionally somehow.
Then our hero comes across a man called Tyler Durden, and his life is changed forever. In a parking lot, Tyler bizarrely asks him to hit him, then Tyler hits him back. This moment flowers into a painful initiation. Together they form Fight Club, a secret gathering where men come to fight each other in pairs. And it’s not even about fighting to win. It’s about release – unleashing all of the repressed garbage that “normal” life forces on you, and finally feeling alive again. Everybody benefits, winners and loser. And Fight Club’s popularity begins to soar, with clubs sprouting up in towns and cities all over America.
The problem starts when Fight Club evolves into something else: something Tyler calls Project Mayhem. The agenda becomes, not so much personal catharsis, but planning to destroy the system that stole your soul in the first place.
This novel definitely touches something deep in the psyche. I could never imagine something like Fight Club taking off in real life, but I know the feeling of being a worker drone, of experiencing life as drained of all vitality, of feeling that I’m bound and shackled in an allegedly normal existence that is actually sick. I’ve known what it’s like to repress myself, and to unleash myself. But there are safer ways than Fight Club; I couldn’t ever imagine myself going for that.
As for Project Mayhem, I think the reader is expected to ask himself whether he wishes to see civilisation as we know it destroyed and reborn. My own viewpoint is that there is actually nothing wrong with life as it is – even if it is screwed up. It’s the responsibilty of every individual to struggle against an essentially predatory world – just like it is in the animal kingdom. We have no basic human right of utopia, and no right to expect it. Adapt and survive.
The tragedy in the story is that a bunch of men who step outside of the system end up becoming what the protagonist calls “space-monkeys” – blind followers of a messianic leader, Tyler Durden.
Readers will no doubt be familiar with the excellent movie based on this novel. I last watched it about a year ago, and from what I can remember it’s a very faithful adaptation, so much so that reading the book almost felt like watching the movie. The book’s ending, however, differs somewhat, and is, in my opinion, superior.
It’s great to read a book that is sharp and gritty, but with a philosophical thread woven through its pages. It also contains some highly quotable lines:
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
“The things you used to own, now they own you.”
“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”