Slaughterhouse-Five: A Review

Slaughterhouse-Five

In a word? Bizarre. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel chronicling the outlandish journey of Billy Pilgrim. Shall I illustrate just how bizarre this bizarre novel is? Take a read of its full title:

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, a Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This Is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.

Yes, that is the actual title. Shortened to Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death and frequently shortened even further to Slaughterhouse-Five, one mightn’t be quite aware of they’re getting themselves into when they first pick up Vonnegut’s highly acclaimed novel. I know I wasn’t. I bought it on the weekend when I had a couple of hours to waste and began reading it without knowing anything about its actual content. I expected a serious book that tackles heavy and confronting issues, as the shortened version of the title might suggest… but I was wrong. I was very, very wrong…

Billy Pilgrim is an American optometrist. He is an ill-prepared soldier in World War II. He is subsequently a prisoner of war. He is married to a fat woman named Valencia. He is abducted by aliens and displayed in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore. He reads science fiction books. He wears a toga to keep warm at the prison camp. He survives an aeroplane crash. He survives the bombing of Dresden. And all of this in the present tense because time is just an illusion and every moment exists at every moment. Or so we are told by the Tralfamadorians who, incidentally, find the human capacity to only view the world in three dimensions quite comically sad.

Yes, Kurt Vonnegut is a master of the bizarre, the berserk and the bewildering. But upon finishing Slaughterhouse-Five I was struck by the realisation that although each chapter alone is entirely absurd, the book as a whole is a masterfully designed insight into humanity,  time, emotion, love, regret and the mind. Much of the outlandish content is metaphorical or intended specifically to illustrate a particular point and because Vonnegut does so with extraordinary finesse, the final result is a profound and entertaining tale.

My conclusion? Slaughterhouse-Five is an incredible literary cocktail of absurdity, existentialism, humour, insight and depth. It tackles some very heavy issues through very unconventional methods and is a classic novel that is not to be ignored. I highly recommend it.

OBBD: Obsessive Book Buying Disorder

Guess who’s been naughty…yes, me. I cannot help myself. It’s not my fault. Don’t blame me. I think it’s actually a disease and if I were to be the one to name it, I would call it “Obsessive Book Buying Disorder.” OBBD. Mild, moderate, severe? I would rate the severity of my condition, on a scale of one to ten, an eleven. I am saving like a maniac so as to actually do something relatiely worthwhile with the remainder of 2012. I forego shopping for clothing, shoes, jewellery, food, stationery and any other imaginable necessity but when it comes to books…my responsible and very mature financial attitude evaporates like steam. I no longer have control over my thoughts or actions. I would even go so far as to say I am momentarily possessed. Books practically throw themselves off their shelves into my arms, screaming at the top of their literary lungs, “Buy me!” So really, what choice do I ever have? I am not a strong-willed person; as much can be easily deduced by taking one glance at my thighs and knowing instantly that my pledge to exercise regularly never eventuated. So yes…I’ve been naughty but blame the stupid books with their stupidly colourful covers and enticing blurbs. Blame the stupid authors for their stupid brilliance. Blame the stupid bookstore for being so stupidly homely and wonderful and irrestible. But don’t blame me for I have OBBD.

Yesterday, en route to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, I stopped with my family in Brisbane City’s West End. With the sole excpetion of Hogwarts, you cannot imagine a more magical place. The culinary aromas of every ethnicity, from Mexican to Thai, waft tantalisingly from the dozens of restaurants that line the main strip. The clothing boutiques sell a bizarre amalgamation of classy, nighclub outfits to happy bohemian ware. There are organic fruit marts, vegan cafes, espresso bars, music clubs, dinky and dingy everything stores, happy herb shops, juicers, sushi trains, psychic reading corners and burger joints. But moreso than for the this wonderful array of cultures, I love West End for its bookstore. There are two that I know of actually, but one in particular, ‘The Avid Reader’, took my breath away. Shelves teetering with the very greatest of titles, classics with colourful and unique cover designs, creative stationery and quirky notebooks, best-sellers to biographies and to top it all off, the intoxicating smell of coffee permeating the air from the cafe nook. It’s an atompshere of wisdom and creativity and leisure, nuturing other worlds and otherworldly pursuits. It is, in a word, sublime.

The Avid Reader

The Avid Reader

And this is where my OBBD kicked in. I spent an entire hour perusing the shelves of ‘The Avid Reader’ and even found myself cross-legged in front of the classics section at one point. I picked up and put down about one trillion different books and then began to calculate just how many I would physically be able to carry to the car. I went from an armful of orange Penguin classics, to a bundle of biographies to an obscure mixture of best-sellers and never-been-heard-ofs. I disrupted the entire heavenly store and will no doubt be therefore sent straight to literary hell when I die. Eventually though, I chose one. One. Shall I repeat it again? One. Let’s just take a moment to admire my awe-inspiring feat of self-restraint. Of the many marvellous titles on offer, I chose Kurt Vonnegut’s (How in the name of God is one supposed to pronounce his last name, by the way? Von-gut? Von-E-gut? Von-eh-gut?) ‘Slaughterhouse 5’.

Coffee and Books

Now that you’re all so proud of me for exercising an incredible degree of will-power, I have a confession: this morning…OBBD struck again. But I promise, it was worth it. A bloody bargain, in fact. In search of breakfast and coffee on a tiny island that doesn’t seem to care all that much about breakfast and coffee, I came across a tiny Opp Shop selling the weirdest $2 items you’ve ever seen: porcelain cats with beady eyes that suggest they’re the direct spawn of Satan, outdated wetsuits with peter pan collars and odd strips of leopardprint material down the side, cooking knick-knacks that belong in a medieval kitchen…weird was definitely the word. However, in spite of the freak factor, this little store managed to momentarily distract me from my lack of caffeine and nourishment on an island that doesn’t seem to care all that much about caffeine and nourishment. Yes, there was a bookshelf. 50 cent books, 2 dollar books, 5 dollar books. I may have actually drooled a little. For the low, low price of just $5, I exited the odd opp shop with another two pieces of OBBD evidence: ‘The Scarecrow’ by Michael Connelly and ‘The English Assasin’ by Daniel Silva. Excellent finds, if I may say so myself.

Obsessive Book Buying Disorder is what I call it. It’s a disease and I cannot be blamed for my symptoms.