The Choke is the third adult novel for Sofie Laguna. Her second novel Eye of the Sheep won the Miles Franklin literary award in 2015. Like that book, The Choke centres around poverty and family, but unlike the hero of Eye of the Sheep the world of The Chokes hero Justine is deeply connected to nature. Justine lives with her grandfather Pop in house on the banks of the Murray river, a few miles from Echuca. Pop is a man torn asunder and suffering PTSD from his stint in the Vietnam war. His mind is still there half the time. While he loves his granddaughter, he doesn't care for her: She rarely bathes or has clean clothes; her dyslexia goes unnoticed. Abandoned by her mother as a toddler and only occasionally visited by her volatile father, Justine’s only solid and safe relationship is with, Michael, a physically disabled boy, outcast by his peers with whom Justine develops a rapport.
The title of the book The Choke refers to a place near Justine’s home where the banks of the Murray River are so narrow they almost touch. The rare beauty of the place is juxtaposed with the inherent danger and ever-present threat of violence and the consequences of neglect that pervades Justine’s life. However, its beauty represents a faint but vibrant thread of hope that runs through the novel despite Justine’s trials and tribulations.
The Choke is a mesmerising, harrowing and uplifting novel. Like the title itself, it is very much about one girl's struggle to escape the stranglehold of poverty, violence, and dysfunction. A worthy and unforgettable read.