14 December 2019

Review: The Choke by Sofie Laguna

The Choke by Sofie Laguna book cover
RRP $32.99
Published August 2017
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

In 2017, the Miles Franklin Winner from 2015 Sofie Laguna released The Choke to critical acclaim. Set in a rural area on the Murray River, it's a bleak literary novel narrated by a 10 year old protagonist Justine.

Justine lives with her pop, a WWII veteran suffering the trauma of working on the Burma railway and barely surviving the war. Her father is mostly absent and her mother abandoned Justine when she was just 3 years old.

I enjoyed elements at the beginning of the book, the youthful exuberance of playing cubbies with her half brothers and swimming in the Murray River. The Australian landscape really comes alive on the page.

However there's no doubting Justine is from a very poor background, unable to read with what appears to be undiagnosed dyslexia (I could be wrong) and no-one to teach her about puberty.

Justine's father is a criminal and there is a gloomy and heavy feeling to the entire novel. Justine's prospects lift when she makes a new friend, and this was my favourite part of the book. Justine's friendship with Michael was magic and I'd have been far happier if the story had ended there. However it was somewhat foolish to think Justine could have a happy ending and somehow escape the poverty cycle.

The Choke moves on a few years and approaches a defining moment in Justine's life. It's heartbreaking, depressing and I found myself thinking this just might belong in the fabled genre of misery lit. Justine's future prospects are grim and the sense of helplessness was overwhelming.

Most readers have seen a searing truth in Justine's story and adore this book. The Choke was nominated for a swag of awards and Australian literature lovers obviously revere it. Unfortunately it didn't work for me. I was too depressed and drained of empathy to enjoy the book and was glad to put this story of childhood neglect, sexual abuse, criminality and poverty behind me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

P.S. Click here to read the opening chapters of The Choke by Sofie Laguna.

Would you like to comment?

  1. I’ve yet to read any of Laguna’s books though I have intended to. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. I’ll prioritise Eye of the Sheep.

    1. Thanks Shelleyrae. I haven't read Eye of the Sheep but perhaps it'd be better to start there.

  2. Ahhh! Yes, I will acknowledge it's rather depressing. I don't know, I just saw a lot of importance in this story. It reached me on a whole other level. But it's definitely not for everyone. Whatever you do, don't read One Foot Wrong. That was beyond depressing. Even for me!


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!