Sophie Laguna is the highly acclaimed Australian author, who won the Miles Franklin award for her novel The Choke in 2015. She appears to be very comfortable in the limelight – not surprising really as she spent several years acting, before becoming an author. She talks lightly and eloquently of her writing craft. At a recent literary event she spoke about using that same headspace so necessary as an actor, to get inside the heads of the characters she creates on the page. In The Choke Sophie brings her characters to life with vivid and enthralling depictions which literally seem to step from the pages.
Sophie chose to name her book The Choke after a point in the Murray River where the banks draw together and the water surges through a narrow neck. As well as the location for the setting of her novel, how apt that the story has you in its grip, choked, from the first scene in which its main character, Justine, is play fighting with her half brothers. The reader is immediately aware of the precarious balance that is Justine’s life: so close to being overpowered, treading a fragile path, but ultimately not intimidated by the strong male figures surrounding her. Justine is a girl struggling to keep her feet, while life and people surge around her, continuously threatening violence or to drag her under.
You cannot help but sympathise for Justine’s plight: dyslexic and struggling at school, abandoned by her mother and with a father who only seems to show up to cause more trouble or intimidation. Justine’s life seems to hang forever on a thread, brought up by her gruff grandfather and trying to eke out an existence for herself. Her innocence and resilience both confound and enthral you. I loved the ease with which Sophie’s writing pulled me into the plot and bound me to her central character to the end – no spoilers here…
This story is both heart-achingly warm and gut-wrenchingly sad. A compelling read with earthy notes bound to the Australia landscape. Unforgettable.