Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) – Kurt Vonnegut


Five stars

Read Oct 06 2014 – Oct 29 2014

Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaugterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

I really don’t know how to review this book. Not because it was bad, mind you, because it was far from bad. More because there is almost too much to say that I can’t even say a fraction of it. Plus it really is such a cleverly constructed book that I feel like I can’t do it justice. I can say something about it being anti-war, because that’s what I’ve heard about Slaughterhouse-Five and I do get a sense of that from the book, but I’m not really qualified to say much about it. I’ve taken a few days to digest Slaughterhouse-Five, and I’ve not gained any more insight towards it.

Okay, the writing style. Perfect for the story. Matter of fact, short, sharp sentences. Random facts. Each in itself is a simple statement, but put them all together and we get a mosaic, made up of fragmented ideas. Plus it felt vaguely reminiscent of The Book Thief, with the climax of the story not tied to specific linear storyline events per se, but with the how. How the events came to be, the necessary circumstances to bring them about. To quote a certain Miley Cyrus, “Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side; it’s the climb”.

And then the story itself. It really was quite brilliant but in so many ways that it escapes me. I just can’t pin it down. Was Billy Pilgrim really a time (and space)- traveller, or was he just mad? I don’t know if there’s meant to be an answer to this, or if it’s deliberately vague.

I loved the little moments that Vonnegut inserted the narrator into the story. It took away from the fantasy and made it real, made it poignant. It really made me pause. I had to take a break from reading, and think. About what, I’m not sure, but I found myself suddenly grounded after drifting along on a surreal adventure.

I think my favourite thing about Slaughterhouse-Five is how bleakly it portrays our lives. We really are insignificant things, caught in something called “time”, filled with our own self-importance and need to achieve things, be somebody, do something. This really hit home with Billy Pilgrim’s marriage to Valencia.

In short, great read, will definitely be chasing up Vonnegut’s other novels. (From what I gather from Wikipedia, Vonnegut’s other novels center around characters that made cameo appearances in Slaughterhouse-Five.) Hopefully it will leave you slightly less befuddled than I am now.

So it goes.


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