SO IT GOES
I love science fiction, so it is a little embarrassing that it’s taken me this long to read a Kurt Vonnegut book.
Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a time-travelling American soldier who is captured by the Germans. The novel jumps between different types in his life, from his imprisonment at Dresden to his post-war life as an optometrist to his abduction by aliens.
You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?'
'No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?'
'I say, "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"'
What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that too.
And, even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.
Initially, I had some trouble understanding the book as I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I decided to stop analyzing and let the story flow, and then I enjoyed it more. It’s a war novel and a science fiction novel, but there are no memorable characters, no striking events, no fighting against all odds. It just goes on, much like an ordinary person’s life would. But amidst that ordinariness, Vonnegut manages to capture the true horror of war, the despondency which it brings and how it has the ability to make a sufferer indifferent to life. The book is apparently based on Vonnegut’s experience as a prisoner at Dresden, and he conveys the feelings of a war-weary soldier very effectively.
It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.
So it goes.
The guards drew together instinctively, rolled their eyes. They experimented with one expression and then another, said nothing, though their mouths were often open. They looked like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.
There is quite a bit of humour in this book, black humour that reinforces the suffering of the story. Vonnegut lampoons our society by showing it through the eyes of the Trafalmadorians. This book reminded me a lot of Catch-22. Though both books are widely different in genre and story, they both use acerbic wit and imagination to condemn war. Slaughterhouse Five is not conventional science fiction, and you should read it to figure out what it’s all about.