Sunday, September 19, 2010


Slaughterhouse-five is another of the classics I probably should've read a long time ago. There seem to be a lot of them out there - given my penchant for thinking numerically, I'm starting to wonder if there are more books out there that I should've read than I could possibly have read in my entire lifetime, given my rate of reading. There probably are, and it's likely that I could sit down over a weekend and create a list of 738 books that I really ought to read, and have a lifetime reading list. It's all a bit daunting.

But back onto my topic for this post: Slaughterhouse-five, by Kurt Vonnegut, is an odd book. It's written in a deceptively childish style, and bounces chronologically through the entire lifetime of its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, centering mainly around his experience in World War Two. Billy's travails in the war are not the glorious war stories you see elsewhere. Billy was at the front, but wasn't a soldier. He was captured, and was in Dresden during the firebombing that destroyed it. He is hurt, humiliated, and dragged around Germany until the war ended.

Alongside that, Billy is somewhat outside time. He doesn't experience it linearly, but jumps back and forth. He learned this from aliens who experience time differently to us, not as a sequence of events, but all at once. It's all rather odd.

It's fundamentally an anti-war book, and this is explicitly stated in the first chapter, which is a (possibly fictional) account of how he came to write the book. He has a character comment that he might as well write an anti-glacier book, since both are inevitable and unstoppable (a thought which travels somewhat unhappily across the years to our age of global warming - we're losing our glaciers, but there are still plenty of wars).

It's a thought-provoking book, but I'm not sure I enjoyed it. The rather offhand style sat unevenly with the deep meditations on war, predestination and free will.

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