Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Slaughterhouse-Five is a funny book. In many ways it was not enjoyable. It was stark, bleak, depressing. The style in which it was written was no-nonsense, straight to the point. It was jumpy and inconsistent. And yet, despite all that, despite my own feelings of disgust at the blasé way things were depicted, I could feel its ideas influencing me.

Of course, all the above is deliberate on the part of the author. It's a semi-autobiographical work with features of science fiction, set around the bombing of Dresden in February 1945. Those events, at least, happened. As did the capture of Kurt Vonnegut at the Battle of the Bulge, and many of the events described at the concentration camp. It's impossible to write a book around those events which doesn't inspire feelings of disgust. And it's meant to - it's meant to show the author's disgust with war.

Fundamentally, Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel. It runs deeper than that, however, analysing the illogical and irrational nature of the human race. It adopts the life of one Billy Pilgrim (supposedly a campmate of Vonnegut in his POW days) as a vessel through which to tell its story and get its point across. Through a temporal anomaly as a result of kidnap by aliens, his life unfolds in a non-linear fashion. One second he's in the concentration camp, the next he's on honeymoon with his wife, or an exhibit on an alien world.

The way the narrative jumps about is jarring. It's unconventional. And in the context of the themes the book tries to get across, it works. I'll admit to getting frustrated by the constant scene breaks (as a fan of a flowing narrative, without scene breaks apart from where strictly necessary), but otherwise the structure is well-suited to the story.

Some things in the book do stick with me. What was written on Montana Wildhack's locket, for instance (and its thematic significance), or the description of the bombed Dresden as being like the moon. But admiring a book is different from liking it. It was a gripping read, one which affected me, but I couldn't bring myself to like it in the slightest.

And for Kindle owners - I got my copy on the Kindle for £2.86. If you want to get it and read it at that price, it's more than worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment