Slaughterhouse Five

S5Title: Slaughterhouse Five

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Summary: 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. Slaughterhouse 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.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This was my third Vonnegut novel, and while i’ve enjoyed them all, this was probably my least favourite of the three. Considering the amount of times i laughed out loud, was made to pause and think, and grab my pen to underline quotes… i did thoroughly enjoy this book.

The disjointed non-linear narrative follows the main character, Billy Pilgrim, in his disjointed non-linear leaps through time. We essentially experience the book as he experiences his life. Whether or not Billy really does jump around in time in time is never revealed, and i love the ambiguity in that. I can imagine it being real, but i can also imagine it being a mental health disorder, or something Billy made up for fun. I enjoy aspects of all the possibilities. The same goes for Billy’s belief that he was abducted by aliens.

His alien abduction, whether real, imagined or fabricated, is a key point in Billy’s life. He learns lessons and alters his perception of life due to the influence of the Tralfamadorians, and think it helps him embrace himself, his time travel and his life. He is so laid back about everything, and i appreciate that about him. So many dramatic things happen to him, but he makes none of them dramatic.

I’m thinking too much, now. About all those ambiguous possibilities. I’m putting things together and making them fit in all new ways. I so love books that allow me to do that. To play with the meaning for so long after i finish the book.

This isn’t a book that instantly leaves an impression on the reader, but one that stays with you. It’s crept into my subconscious and will stew there, as i ponder on it more and more. And i’m already changing my mind on this being the Vonnegut i’ve enjoyed the least. Come back to me in a month or two, and i’m sure i’ll have dozens of other things to say about this book. Right now, i’m still mentally digesting it.

The ideas this book has stirred will continue for a good long while, but the book itself is over. So it goes.

This is the eleventh book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

Breakfast of Champions

breakfast-of-championsTitle: Breakfast of Champions

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Summary: In a frolic of cartoon and comic outbursts against rule and reason, a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce, Kurt Vonnegut attacks the whole spectrum of American society, releasing some of his best-loved literary creations on the scene.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is… i’m not sure ‘weird’ covers it, to be honest. But it’s not just weird. It’s funny and insightful and astute and 100% on point. This book is brilliant.

If you can look past the strangeness–the odd, round the houses tale of the two main characters and the chain of events that lead them to meeting… the multiple random asides that go on for several pages that are then referenced several chapters later… the interweaving details and history of the characters, the characters’ family, and things that happened to them many years ago… the author-insertion into his own book… If you can look past all that, or, perhaps more accurately, look deeper into that, Vonnegut is making some relevant, sharp and witty comments on life.

My personal favourite was when he started giving the length and girth of the penis of every male character he introduces, and the bust/waist/hip measurements of every female. Oh, and the average number of orgasms each character has in a month. Because this is the real information people care about, right? How big your dick is and how much sex you have. Of course, this information allows you to draw zero conclusions about these characters. Another example of the same thing would be the way he introduces characters by telling you whether they are black or white–because far too many people think this is relevant when it isn’t–it adds nothing to the characters…

…Except of course when Vonnegut has a point to make about racist and class divides, then things become very relevant. And Vonnegut has a lot to say–a lot of points to make–about a lot of things. By framing them slightly off, by showing them from a slightly odd character’s point of view, he points out the slightly odd things about society, about humans, about life. Those points could be missed if all you’re thinking about is how weird the story is. In a way, the story itself is lost without the astute details Vonnegut is slipping in.

I think this is the kind of book you either get, or you don’t. And while i’m sure there was plenty of things i missed (and do believe a re-read would be in the book’s favour), there was so much i loved and took away with me from this book. So many smiles and laughs and wry nods of the head.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: A memoir (okay, maybe not exactly, but the blurb does say: ‘a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce’ so i’m totally having it).

TTT: Books with Characters who Read

TTTI kind of disliked the openness of this question. I already have to pick my 10 choices, now you’re making me decide on the subject matter, too? It was too wide open—it could be anything. That felt more than a little daunting, so I pulled it back in to the subject matter at hand: books.

Behold, a list of 10 books with characters who read…

The Book Thief. An obvious choice, perhaps, but an excellent one. Liesel’s passion for reading, for exploring worlds beyond the terrifyingly violent one she’s in, was the entire reason I picked up this book in the first place.

I Capture the Castle. Cassandra is well-versed in poetry and literature, and because of this comes across beautifully in her writing. She even politely reads Stephen’s plagiarised and terrible original poetry, and doesn’t hate a word of it.

The Girl with All the Gifts. Melanie is a very clever 10-year-old girl who enjoys learning. She particularly likes read Greek mythology, drawing parallels and blending them with her imagination and the world around her.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Technically not a character, as this is Lewis Buzbee’s memoir from a life spent working in bookshops and the publishing industry, but still. His bookish thoughts, observations and tales are wonderful.

The Book of Lost Things. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old David retreats into the world of books and stories, fantasy and imagination. Then his retreat manifests, trapping him in a world of fantasy. But does he want to get out?

Fahrenheit 451. Okay, so technically Guy doesn’t read the books he saves and secrets away, but it’s more the act and meaning behind his actions; the idea that books are powerful, that gets this book on the list.

The Art of Fielding. I guess both Owen and Guert count as characters who love books, but Guert is the only one of the two that I loved. He was perfect in his imperfection, flawless in his flawness. He loved books, his daughter, his lover, his school—all without reservation.

Breakfast of Champions. This is the book I am currently reading, It is witty and insightful and weird and I love it. Kilgore writes bizarre science fiction, the single copies of which he sends out in the hopes of getting published. The only place his stories end up are as filler for porn magazines, which he then buys in order to re-read his own work.

Walking on Glass. This is an odd, but very good, book. It focuses of three story lines, one centring around Steven, who believes he is trapped on Earth following his role in a galactic war. He reads science fiction in the hope of finding clues and messages.

Looking for Alaska. This book was a solid average for me: not bad, but not amazing. Alaska was a fascinating character, though. I can picture her room, piled with books, and it is wonderful. Of course, the fact that she never gets to read them all… less so.

Cat’s Cradle

2865440Title: Cat’s Cradle

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 readingto 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.