This is a reread for both of these books, but it’s also possible I never read Congo — I did see the movie on HBO while babysitting in like 1997 and it’s truly awful. The book is also, not great, but it is a lot better than the movie. Fight Club, of course, I read right after watching the movie.
Fight Club – 4/5 Stars
This book mostly still holds up. Like the movie, of course, the satire (WHICH IS NOT SUBTLE ACTUALLY) does not seem to translate to all readers, but still does the solid job of both making substantive critiques of modern American consumerism, while also making even more damning critiques of the overreaction by the characters. It has that kind of quality of showing how broken the system is, but also the further brokenness of allowing the kinds of responses that Tyler Durden makes. It’s also a solid critique of cult mentality, something people should be paying some attention to right now.
So of course, the novel begins at the end with our narrator strapped to a chair with a gun in his mouth. We back up to the very beginning to see how he ended up here, and we follow the path from disillusion to response to overreaction as the fighting turns into the Fight Club. Like the movie, the book is really funny and sharp throughout, even if some of the writing is less crisp than when it shows up on screen. There’s a few odd moments that don’t make it into the movie, and how obsessed both our with image, what it all turns out is that the movie is probably ultimately better than the book. This is almost entirely contained in the movie’s ability to show on screen what is not entirely rendered on the page. I also think the movie handles the big reveal (using montage to illustrate the reckoning) later than the book, and this is a smarter plotting.
Congo: 2/5 Stars
This book was a little surprising to me because the movie came out in 1995 or so, and the book got a fresh new cover after Jurassic Park hit it big, that this book made the rounds again. It’s surprising because this book is actually from 1980. It’s relatively short, comparative to Sphere or Jurassic Park, and the book suffers because so much time and so much movement is condensed down into passages that cover large chunks of time. For example, it takes the team like 6-7 days to make it to the Congo, and this time involves maybe 50 pages. In Jurassic Park, the whole book is a weekend, and the movement is relatively smaller compared to the hundreds of miles traveled in this one.
So the other issue is that this is a book where there are no real stakes. Sure, the people’s lives are in danger from the advanced gorillas, but if they didn’t go, nothing would have happened. So it’s not like in Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park, where there’s a wider dangerous implication, where something almost inevitable must be confronted.
Lastly, the problem, and I don’t really feel like getting into it here, is well, white American authors who play pretty fast and loose with race already in others books, might be better off leaving the whole continent of Africa to more capable writers.