Thursday, 9 February 2012

Slaughterhouse 5 (Or, the Children's Crusade) by Kurt Vonnegut

This is well-known modern classic that follows Billy as he jumps through his timeline in what is an utterly bizarre story that somehow didn't lose my attention, though I expected otherwise.

It's an incredibly short book, which is nice. I think that had this book been maybe another 50 pages longer then I would have been annoyed; what featured in the book was that which was applicable and relevant. And there isn't actually anything bloody (despite what it's name suggests). There is some death but of a gory description. Billy actually repeatedly say "So it goes." as a simple to just accept death and move in. This kind of sums up the tone of book in general- it's emotionless without being bland or boring. Billy is stolid about most events in his life (either because he is or he has to be) so even the death of loved ones does not bother him in any discernable way.

The time jumping theme is also very well done. In some ways, it's like reading 3 or 4 different stories at different points in a linear timeline. The two goods things of this are, one, that when the other stories are perhaps less exciting, one stories will remain more interesting as it builds to a small conclusion of something that has been built up to. The other is when all the stories come to pinnacles at the end. In way we know what they'll be (what with time jumping and all) but watching everything come to a conclusion in tandem really pushes an idea of time to the forefront.

The idea, courtesy of the Extra Terrestrial Trafalmadore species, is that time isn't expressly linear and that everything you do in life is merely a path we can't see. This annoyed me in some ways since I don't believe in fate or destiny (and I get the impression that Vonnegut doesn't really either) but I appreciated the effect it had in terms of telling a story. It was one of the reasons that Billy was so stolid; because he knew what woul happen in the future and so he wasn't worried about it happening. There was a wonderful idea that since those moments in our life surround us, we are constantly living in the past or future in the best moments of our lives. So the point I took from the ending of stories all being reached similtaneously is that your life comes down to crucial moments that you are constantly working towards. The notion of legacy is always one I find interesting, and is a message I always take from a Chekhov production. Mortality scares me as much as anyone, but I like to think I live in other ways that aren't so tangeable. I'm not talking afterlife: I mean the influence you have on people, the things you do and the impression you make.

Quite famously, this is meant to be an anti-war novel. I can see it now I look back, but it wasn't something that leapt out at me, but I did notice some things. The major one was the nonchalant way in which the Trafalmadore know they will destroy the Universe when testing spaceship fuel. But knowing this, they assume it cannot be stopped; that time always has ended, always is ending and always will end at that time for that reason. Again my anti-fate idea is showing since my argument would be that that is no just excuse to destroy all life. Part of me wonders that Vonnegut didn't make war considered inevitable in the book only because, as humans, we are so adamantly against those ideas. True, some believe a higher being has a plan for them, but no one thinks their entire life is etched in marble; we like to believe we influence our owns lives and make our own consequences, for good or for ill.

Truly, this is a great book. It's the kind of one I'd pass to someone who wants to read more fiction and is perhaps leaning towards trying classics at some point. It's not at all difficult to read, and my only problem with it was that the Science Fiction element of the Trafalmadore felt wrong. It was well written and worked for the story, but it felt off. The book wouldn't have been the same without either though, so I am of two minds about this.

Anyway; this was excellent so I urge you to buy it somewhere and read it. Did I mention it's only 150 pages too? Beats a 700+ page Dickens novel.

1 comment:

  1. Kevin loves Kurt Vonnegut and this is the one book he keeps bugging me to read. I keep saying I'll get to all these books one day....hopefully I will!