Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut

How on earth have I managed to get this far into life having never read this book before, and more importantly without someone sitting me down and making me read this before.  I am 34 years old, a book enthusiast to say the least – I run a book group which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in September (and they said it wouldn’t last!).  I talk about books a lot, I talk about reading a lot, I voice my opinions on books a lot, often to people I barely know; yet still, no one has mentioned that Slaughterhouse-five is a genuine masterpiece.  Don’t get me wrong, I was aware of its existence, I had been meaning to get round to reading it for many years but something else was always there.  I didn’t have a clue what it was about or what to expect, I thought that maybe it was a dystopian, futuristic novel in the same vain as Fahrenheit 451.  I was wrong!

So, if you haven’t read it then what you should do (immediately after reading this) is stop whatever else you are doing, interrupt whatever you may be reading and read Slaughterhouse-five.  I urge you with all my will to do so (unless you’re reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, if you’re reading that then finish it first then read this), you will not regret it.

The book itself is a story of a man that has survived the Allied bombing of Dresden in WWII having been a POW at the time (much like the author).  But the book isn’t just about the bombing, it is about the life of Billy Pilgrim before and after the events during the war that clearly change him.  The story switches in time often and quickly, Billy Pilgrim is a regular time traveller, reliving his whole life going backwards and forwards.  Quite brilliantly this is how Vonnegut deals with the time shifts within the book – his ‘hero’ is a time traveller, just one that has no control over where to and when he will travel.  I loved this element of the book, the way in which the story unfolds, the reader unsure of the sanity of the protagonist, is finely tuned and tempered.

The first chapter of the book is an introduction of sorts, the narrator is Vonnegut not Billy Pilgrim, and what you receive is the background behind the book.  Why he wrote it.  Why it took so long (it was originally published in 1969).  What his views of war are.  How strong his feelings are for the subject.  This is the perfect setting for what comes after.  I won’t write too much more about it, you should all find out for yourselves.  What I will say though is that it is a perfectly stripped back and stark novel, there is no fat, and each sentence and word within appears to be thought through in every way.  It is only a short book and reminded me of the previously mention ‘The Road’ in its stark narrative, it also reminded me a lot of ‘Catch-22’.  Had it not been for book group, when I finished it, I may have just gone back to the beginning and started again – I will definitely be reading this again sometime in the next couple of years.

So it goes…

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