I have a very eclectic reading spectrum. In fact, besides straight horror or romance, I’ll read pretty much anything. I also tend to switch gears between books. I stray away from reading several books of the same type in a row. After I finished reading Chocolat, I wanted to save other lighter reads for later, but I did want something quick for my next read. Thus, I grabbed the shortest book I had: Choke.
Now if you are familiar with these books you know that this is about as far apart as you can get on the fiction spectrum…but then again, is it?
In college, I had a professor task us with writing a compare/contrast essay on The Life of Brian and The Passion of the Christ. I’m proud to say I aced it. This assignment popped to mind as I finished reading Choke. Wouldn’t it be funny if I compared Choke to Chocolat? Is it even possible?
After some thought it actually seemed more than possible. Both are stories with main characters attempting to find a sustainable life. Victor, in Choke is trying to pay for his mother’s health needs, get past his fucked up childhood, and potentially do something more with his life than pretend to choke at restaurants to get money and have sex to forget about his miserable existence. Vienne, in Chocolat, is trying to find a place to call home permanently, something that she has never experienced due to her own messed-up formative years and her battles with religious doctrine and social norms.
Both characters are raised by single mothers that believe in, and do some, screwed up things. Both characters use sex as a remedy for attention. Vienne’s is mainly in the past while Victor’s is current, but Vienne does venture back down this road. They can each be at times selfish, but also self-sacrificing.
These stories show character progression and yet in the end leave the reader with the knowledge that they still have a long way to go before achieving what they want or need. And there is the distinct possibility that they never will. They keep doing things which make you wonder whether they have learned anything from their past.
Both plots have influential, manipulative side-characters. In Chocolat it is the village priest, the clear villain who is crazed with “righteous” religious behavior. While in Choke we have Dr. Paige Marshall, who isn’t necessarily the villain. She’s trying to “help” her patients the best she is able, but Paige has got some issues of her own.
Obviously, the tone of the stories are very different. Choke is raw, direct, in your face. It’s done intentionally to make you uncomfortable and possibly face some of your own insecurities. Chocolat is much softer. It relies on the reader completely understanding the issues that the characters grapple with; the answers aren’t force fed. But in the end, they both present the general idea that life is messy and incomprehensible and yet somehow as humans we manage. It’s the difference between industrial lighting in a warehouse and the soft glow in a mahoganized university library.
Choke and Chocolat are about as far as possible from each other in the general fiction section at B&N, and yet weirdly close, like sweet potatoes being a part of the morning glory flowering plant family.