The Choke by Sofie Laguna – a literary mixtape

I read The Choke by Sofie Laguna earlier this year. I’m still thinking about this brutal, devastating story.

Invisible Me | Paul Kelly

When Pop spoke to me, it was the same as when Dad did. The words were there, but it was as if they were speaking to themselves. I was just an excuse.

Our Last Summer | ABBA

It went quiet. Kirk and Steve dug holes with their stick-guns, and I watched the fire as we waited for Dad. It felt like we had always been waiting for him; since we were small, before the fall-out, back when Donna was still my mother, we had been waiting. Even when he was here we were waiting – for him to look at us, talk to us, laugh at the jokes we made, notice the things we did.

Don’t Speak | No Doubt

‘Good to see you, Dad,’ said Aunty Rita.
‘You’re looking well, Rita,’ said Pop. Something ran between Aunty Rita and Pop, and hurt them.

You Keep It All In | Beautiful South

‘There you go, Pop,’ I said, putting the can of beer on the table beside his bed. He rolled over and I saw the tracks that he laid in Burma in his face. I saw the river of blood and the good boys and the Japs. They charged down the grooves in Pop’s cheeks and chin and forehead.

Everybody Hurts | R.E.M.

Dad’s voice sounded as if there was an ocean beneath it that left his voice on top, watery and rocking.

If I Could Start Today Again | Missy Higgins

I grew hot as I worked, not thinking of anything but my keepout home, not Stacey and Sherry or the caravan or my dad leaning over me, Wake up, move it! Not remembering the drive home, Dad’s emptied-out silence, as if he had left something behind at Stacey’s and he was glad and quiet and calm without it, the same way he was after he shot the bullets into cans.

Glorious | Macklemore

Was that why Michael and me were friends? Something to look forward to. Every morning I did up the buckles of my new shoes and there was so much sunshine outside my window I couldn’t see behind it.

Time After Time | Cyndi Lauper

When Michael asked me questions, he waited for my answers. He wanted to find out. He wouldn’t go on until I answered. It was the opposite of invisible.

I Can’t Make You Love Me | Adele

What was it flowed in my dad’s veins if it wasn’t blood? Was it the same stuff that flowed in the veins of the Japs? Did that same stuff flow in my veins too? Was that why I was born breech? If I had a different father with different blood, would I be able to read? Would my mother still have caught the train to Lismore? I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers.

Looking In | Club Hoy

We sat up and looked out over the water to the far bank. He said, “You’re right, Justine. The river came first. The river decides things.” Michael had shown me his home and a mother who gave me a rose bubble bath and a brother who gave me toast. He had shown me a tent, cut grass and spaghetti. He had shown me Black Beauty and which circle to tick for the right answer. I had shown him the Murray River. We were even.

It’s Raining Again | Supertramp

Clouds from a storm that had been caught in me came out my nose and eyes and mouth.

4.5/5 Laguna writes from a child’s perspective like no other.


19 responses

  1. I’m working on one of these right now (literally, 90% through) and I’m procrastinating by reading other blogs, as one does. This one sounds brilliant (No Dount AND Supertramp). I just looked this up to see when it comes out here and it came out this spring (with SUCH a different cover).

    • I struggle to review stories about child abuse – what can you say apart from ‘this is heartbreaking and no child should ever have to experience this’? This book was particularly tough – exquisitely written – but hard reading, so I took the musical option.

      Is that the cover with the birdcage as the girl’s head?? So strange – that image doesn’t really relate to the story at all. There’s birds, but they’re hens, not song birds. Even as I’m typing this, I’m seeing meaning in the inclusion of the hens that I hadn’t considered before. Sometimes you wonder if the artist has read the book… I know that the author doesn’t always get a say about the cover art (although an author I know, who wrote a very Australian rural novel, absolutely put her foot down when she saw the US cover – it was something with an owl and a patchwork quilt – nothing to do with the story, nothing distinctly Australian. She got her way).

  2. The men of my childhood, my schoolmates’ fathers, were returned soldiers and POWs. Theirs was a shared experience now just a faded memory, overlaid by years of ‘peace’ and large-scale immigration, but your quotes about Pop and Japs momentarily brought it all back (I recognised some of the songs, to my great surprise, you must have been looking in your parents’ record collection).

    • I also thought those quotes were powerful. I was struck by how well Laguna captured the post-traumatic stress/ memories from a child’s perspective – it’s the combination of matter-of-factness and empathy that she somehow gets on the page. It really is remarkable writing.

      As for the music, not from my parents’ record collection, but my own! I am a child of the seventies and a teen of the eighties. Like every generation, I reckon I had the ‘best’ music 😉

  3. This is such a memorable book. I’m surprised it didn’t do better in the literary rounds last year, really. Perhaps it was the historical setting? Perhaps it was that they wanted to get away from abuse stories? Perhaps it was the ending which pushed credulity a little (though I was happy to go with it)? Whatever, it was, I think it was a shame because I think she captured the voice so well, and the complexity of the situation.

    • I agree that it was overlooked. I do wonder how much the timing of publication impacts these things? Does a book that was ‘more recent’ stay in the minds of judges/ buyers/ readers better, and is therefore more favoured? I recall thinking that when Zadie Smith’s Swing Time came out, it made all the ‘best of the year’ lists and yet, I don’t think it was her best work… And what would have happened if it was released in January rather than November?

      I was happy with the ending of The Choke, although it didn’t matter to me so much because it was the guts of the book that will stay.

      • Yes I wonder as bout timing too Kate though judges should tag them all again at awards time even if they’ve resd it before.

        I agree about the ending too – it’s the car trip that some find pushes it a bit – and also agree that its the guts that will stay. I rarely ren mber endings anyhow. They tend not to be what makes or breaks a book for me.

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