Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 371 pp, 9781760297244
The Choke is full of holes. I mean that literally, which is also to say (since we are talking about a novel) symbolically. It contains any number of insinuating references to wounds, ditches, gaps, and voids. The primary implication of these can be grasped if one recalls that ‘nothing’ was Elizabethan slang for female genitalia. Sofie Laguna’s narrator, a ten-year-old girl named Justine Lee, who has a nervous habit of thrusting her tongue in and out of the gap created by her missing teeth, is constantly being reminded that she has ‘no thing’. In the masculine world of knives and guns she inhabits, the secondary status this lack bestows upon her is reinforced in all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, often with an element of innuendo and menace. On the very first page, one of her two older brothers threatens to shoot her with his slingshot in the ‘hole’ of her gummy mouth if she smiles. Shortly after a scene in which she is attacked by an aggressive rooster named Cockyboy, which slashes her face, the idea that her femaleness is not simply a deficiency but a form of mutilation is made explicit when Jamie, the teenaged scion of the rival Worrley family, attacks her on the way to school, having first taunted her by grabbing at her skirt and calling out ‘show us your scar’.