The Choke by Sofie Laguna

Sofie Laguna’s third novel for adults gave me that sweet reading moment we all pine for – when you realise that your lived world is colliding with that of the page. Reading becomes the sole purpose of the day. You cannot put the book down because you are immersed, completely and utterly, until the story finishes. Laguna was awarded the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for her creation of Jimmy Flick in The Eye of the Sheep. It is possible that this novel will give her even more, deserved, acclaim.

The Choke centres on ten-year-old Justine. Her voice narrates the affecting and demoralising consequences of male violence in blocking her potential pathways. The title refers to the banks of the Murray River, where the river runs narrow, occasionally flooding the surrounds. It is here that the story is staged. Laguna elegantly portrays the dampness, the dirt, the longing and the knowledge of those who live so near the Murray River – and so far from helping hands. Laguna’s ability to expose isolation and despair is remarkable. The deeper I immersed myself in Justine’s world, the sadder and more choked I became. Witnesses to Justine’s life are held up as beacons of possibility, but still – as it is with deep-set poverty – they’re unable to change the direction of this young girl’s life. Laguna has beautifully captured the bewilderment of childhood and the emergence of adulthood in her character of Justine. It is so unquestionably heartbreaking.

Readers who enjoyed Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, or Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog, will be delighted with this novel. This is an extraordinary read.

Chris Gordon is the events manager for Readings.