Review: Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

by Stephen Tall on September 30, 2016

slaughterhouseSlaughterhouse 5, or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut

Second up on my my #40booksby40 list. Friends had told me I’d love it — this classic, post-war, anti-war, semi-autobiographical, absurdist novel — that it’s a quick, easy read.

If I’m honest, though, I struggled with it. I tried to figure out why, because it’s not that it’s not brilliantly written. The sliced-up narrative of Billy Pilgrim’s account of the Allied bombing of Dresden and its impact on his life, is simultaneously disorientating and coherent.

And it’s not that it’s not powerful. The low-key matter-of-fact drudgery of war — the hunger, cold, squalor — which ridicules humanity (Billy ends the war dressed in blue toga and silver shoes, hands in a muff) counter-points ironically with his fantastical escapism in Tralfamador as a zoo exhibit with abducted movie star Montana Wildhack.

And it’s not that it’s not, at times, deadly funny. So it goes.

And it’s certainly not that it’s without purpose. Whether in its implicit denunciation of warfare; its discussion of free will (“All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist”); or our relationship to time and space, morality, the blurred lines between the realities we make up and the fictions we live.

Perhaps, then, it’s the combination — the denseness of style, content, intent — which weighs it down, makes it hard work. I didn’t especially enjoy reading it first time. I think it’s well worth reading a second time, though.