Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969)

Author: Kurt Vonnegut  |  Page Count: 192

'Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.'

Slaughterhouse-Five is all things to all people.  It’s a short novel but it squeezes in historical fact, fiction, autobiography, sci-fi, romance, comedy, tragedy and satire.
The book begins with Vonnegut as narrator telling us why he'll write the novel, giving his intentions and hopes for how it'll eventually turn out, which has already either happened according to plan or hasn't.

It then switches to the third person to tell Billy Pilgrim’s story.  Does the ‘story’ begin in chapter two?  Or is the introduction fictitious, making the narrator a part of the story?  Take nothing for granted.  It’s a metafiction that exposes the fictional illusion and throws doubt on the validity of history as it's written.  Trying to comprehend that is less confusing than it sounds when reading.

Billy has come "unstuck in time", creating a situation that plays havoc with his social life.  He’s forced to randomly experience events from various eras in which he's lived, often triggered by some kind of tragic or comical occurrence.  He's a fatalistic character.  Fatalism is a trait that is almost impossible to do properly in literature without leaving the reader bored, because characters should have opinions and act to change their destiny.  Vonnegut not only does it well, he excels at it.  You'll laugh, cry and even learn something along the way.

There are two primary narrative threads.  Firstly Billy’s life, the one that has him whizzing through time, is presented in a non-linear fashion.  The second is his War days that, although broken up repeatedly by the first thread, are more or less linear in nature.  The book flicks back and forth between the two states of being seamlessly.  Mostly because the language is a very matter-of-fact conversational tone; it tells you what you need to know in as few words as possible.  It’s packed with metaphors but spends little time setting them up.

Vonnegut is full of confidence and it shows.  Post-modern metafiction can be daunting to the newcomer but Slaughterhouse-Five makes it wholly accessible, while still retaining the depth and subtext if we want to look for it.

5 boxes of Trout and a teapot out of 5

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