1 June 2012

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.


Such is the spandangling, wondrous full title of the Kurt Vonnegut classic Slaughterhouse-Five; yet another book pressed upon me by Daddy Relish which, after being slightly dismissed (I'm mortified to say) as 'another war book', not helped by the stark, though completely appropriate cover of the Vintage edition (see left), I finally picked up last month and can't believe I hadn't done sooner.

Billy Pilgrim; POW, optometrist, time-traveller and general outsider has become unstuck in time.  As we hurtle backwards and forwards after him to certain key points in his life, sometimes on more than one occasion, Vonnegut treats us to an insightful and inventive commentary on the nature of fate, logic, the concept of free will and even existence itself. So it goes. 

Along with the extremes of the mundane and completely fantastical that Billy supposedly experiences throughout his life, the pivotal event we return to continually is the bombing of Dresden in the closing months of WWII, a horrific event which Billy, along with a small group of fellow soldiers, miraculously survives. Our narrator (most probably K Vonnegut himself), inspired by his war experience, sets out to write an 'anti-war' book, with fellow-soldier Billy as his unlikely hero. Although war may have a significant role to play within the story, this is ultimately a hugely entertaining, complex satire, approaching a number of sometimes important, sometimes obscure ideas that absolutely astounded me from beginning to end. It is the best book I have read in a very long time, my admiration not having waned even now, a whole month later.

Slaughterhouse-Five presents a tantalising opportunity to reveal some completely original ideas and inventions to those who have yet to pick it up.. Huge concepts (almost too huge in places) are presented by a variety of unreal, satirical, often tragic characters (some who have reoccurring roles throughout Vonnegut's other fiction) to create a thoroughly enjoyable book that I feel should be made compulsory for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime.

The deeply insightful, and really quite comical portrayal of the very worst scenes of war and its protagonists should be argument enough to read this story, the completely unexpected, supernatural and philosophical elements (all superbly executed) help raise the bar to another level and will elevate this book to 'Top 100' lists for the rest of time.. What a weird yet wonderful place the world could become if everyone could think like Vonnegut....

'All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber.' 


Do not dismiss this as a 'war book' or, even worse, sci-fi genre fiction and pick it up before I buy you all a copy!

Returning to the real world, I would just like to take the opportunity to thank Olga, of the wonderful Bibliophile's Corner, who was kind enough to recently devote an entire blog post to Literary Relish, something which completely took me by surprise and did make me blush a little! Do go take a look at her blog; her posts are both varied and hugely entertaining (her 'Special Feature's are a treat) and her taste in books is sublime :-) It's a lovely thing to meet such likeminded people over the 'blogosphere'! Thanks Olga.  


  1. I always feel like I'm completely missing something when people talk about Slaughterhouse-5. I read it and didn't get its greatness.

    1. I can understand that, it's very difficult to review with any clarity! Do you think it might be worth a re-read one day? :)

  2. I absolutely love this book, I too think that it should be compulsory reading, they really should make kids read it in schools. Vonnegut was an absolute genius, have you read anything else of his?

    1. Funnily enough .. being an avid reader of your blog it doesn't surprise me that you love him so much! :) And I'm chuffed! I haven't read anymore of his stuff yet - what would you recommend?

    2. Ha ha, that "avid reader" comment actually made me blush! Breakfast of Champions is my favourite I think, and The Sirens of Titan is also really good, but I don't think you can go wrong with any of his books. Some of his short stories are really good, a lot of the best ones are in a collection called Welcome to the Monkey House, in fact, I found this one for you: http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

    3. Oh ace! Thanks Adam :-) I've emailed this to myself to read on the way to work !