22 May 2014 6 Comments
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Summary: Dr Felix Hoenukker, one of the founding ‘fathers’ of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to humanity. For he is the inventor of ice-nine, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. Writer Jonah’s search for its whereabouts leads him to Hoenukker’s three eccentric children, to an island republic in the Caribbean where the religion of Bokononism is practised, to love and humanity. Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut’s cult tale of global destruction is a funny and frightening satire on the end of the world and the madness of mankind.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5
Review: I was eagerly looking forward to reading this book, because as soon as i picked it up and flicked through it, i discovered it has 127 chapters over 206 pages. I’m a sucker for short chapters; i always end up reading more that way.
The reasons i had wanted to read the book in the first places include: “a deadly legacy to humanity,” “freezing the entire planet” and “cult tale of global destruction.” I… did not get what i was expecting.
Jonah is an interesting narrator. The short chapters feel like small leaps and neat tucks in his own consciousness, and really helped form the first person narrative. Jonah is also a sod for leaving breadcrumbs. He’ll drop a Bokononism, and explain it enough for the current context, but not fully explain what the hell Bokononism even is, how he came about it or what its significance is. But Bokononism was weirdly fascinating enough for me to want to keep reading—to want to find out.
A large portion of the book seems to be a character study. Jonah is contacting and interviewing people close to Dr Felix Hoenukker in order to write a biography of the man, but he seems to find more to say on the people he meets rather than Dr Hoenukker himself. I enjoy that kind of thing, and Jonah seemed so relaxed about it all, letting it sweep him along, that i was easily swept right along with him.
For me things got weird when Jonah landed at San Lorenzo. The drive and focus of the narrative shifted completely; it seemed to no longer be about Dr Hoenukker at all, and it took me a while to settle into it.
I didn’t like the time spent at San Lorenzo as much as the start of the book, though. I think a high proportion of that was the heavy-handed and clichéd representation of Mona. The beautiful woman everyone loves, but no one knows anything about because no one takes the time to actually get to know her. Excuse me while i roll my eyes and gag.
The end-of-the-world dystopian stuff didn’t come till right near the end of the book, which disappointed me greatly, because that was the main reason i had decided to read it. As much as i had enjoyed Jonah’s steady introduction of these characters, of ice-nine and of Bokononism, i couldn’t help thinking, in the back of my mind as i read, ‘But where’s the dystopia?’
I wanted to like this book more. It just felt significantly divided into two or three sections, and the end-of-the-world stuff happened far too late for my tastes.
I did enjoy the writing style, concepts and general subject matter. More Vonneguts are definitely on my ‘to read’ list.
This is the third book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.