Monday, 11 November 2002

Slaughterhouse 5

Listening to:

Corelli, Concerti grossi, Op. 6.

Just read:

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

This is a short, rather strange novel, which tells the story of Billy Pilgrim and his experience of the bombing of Dresden in World War 2. The novel also describes Pilgrim's life after the war, but in rather a detached, unreal way. This post-war life includes being abducted by aliens and time travel, adding to the sense of unreality. The novel is often blackly humorous, in a way that reminded me of Catch-22. Inasmuch as both novels can be seen as anti-war stories, told by American Everymen, they are similar. On the other hand, Catch-22 is much longer, which means that the many characters there have an opportunity to establish themselves as (larger-than-life) individuals, and for their histories to develop. The plot in Catch-22 also confines itself to war years, but the story in Slaughterhouse 5 covers more chronological ground. This lessens the impact of Slaughterhouse 5 in comparison.

Slaughterhouse 5 tells an effective story in its narration of internment as a PoW in Germany, and being in Dresden when the bombing happened (this happened to Vonnegut himself). I enjoyed these passages, but don't feel that I understood the import of Pilgrim's post-war life. My working hypothesis is that the detachment, the fatalistic philosophy learned from the aliens, the time travel and the aliens themselves are all meant to be symptoms of how the war has messed with Pilgrim's mind, and detached him from the real world around him. For all its strangenesses, Slaughterhouse 5 is a thought-provoking read, and enjoyable.

Now reading:

Granta 79: celebrity.

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