4 out of 5 Stars
I’m still slowly but surely making my way through some classics. Slaughterhouse-Five just happened to be next on the list and turned out to be a unique experience.
Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut’s most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor.
This book was strange, but I absolutely loved it! Although humorous at times, it does an amazing job of displaying the absurdity and tragedy off war.
The novel is written in a very interesting manner, written in first person perspective from the author’s point of view, telling the story or a fellow soldier, Billy Pilgrim. This strange storytelling style gives the unique illusion of a third person omniscient viewpoint with occasional insights directly from the author. And not only that, but Billy Pilgrim is a person who has become unstuck from his timeline, moving around between different points throughout his life and back. Sometimes this made the story a bit hard to follow, but it also highlighted the duality between the harsh reality of war and the mundane banality of everyday life.
The writing style was simple yet oddly poetic. Vonnegut uses a lot of word repetition which sometimes got a little annoying, but often worked well to emphasize the finality and powerlessness of war. Or as Billy Pilgram would say, “But so it goes.” The descriptions of many of Billy’s experiences were very vivid, and often very odd, putting the writer right there in the story with our characters.
Although this novel covers some very real and horrible events, it was completely and totally ridiculous. Some of this is the strangeness of war, which leaves Billy wandering through war camps in silver painted boots and a velvet toga, or gets a man killed over a teapot, or creates a group of musical performing British prisoners of war. Some of the ridiculousness may or may not be all in Billy’s mind, like the time traveling or his abduction by aliens from Tralfamadore. Either way, this book did an amazing job mixing inane and terrible realities with the more beautiful and comical parts of life.
Overall I give this Slaughterhouse-Five 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for an excellent classic about war but with a mix of fantasy thrown in, give this book a shot 🙂