Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (1969)

Vonnegut is not very well-known overseas, so I first heard about his recent death through the Hobgoblin’s post. I decided to find out on this author without any preconception. Something strange happened when I checked out the book at my local library. The librarian was sort of annoyed and said:

– Do you know that the author recently died?

– Yes indeed, that’s why I’m borrowing the book in the first place.

– It’s good that some authors die, so that their books may be checked out for once.

I really didn’t know what to make of the librarian’s weird answer (ok, I rolled my eyes), except that he may need some mental day off. If I’d read the book before, I might have answered: “So it goes.”

 

Slaughterhouse Five was an interesting read, even if it wasn’t really moving or totally compelling in my opinion, just like a piece of contemporary art slightly too crazy for my taste. The form of the novel is funny and resolutely modern, close to Becket. Vonnegut refuses the chronological plot, just like he refuses to dwell on psychology and on tearful emotionalism, or even to lay the bare facts with a sordid realism. His point is to demonstrate the absurdity of war, especially the (in)famous bombing of Dresden that he witnessed at the end of WWII.

 

We don’t stop moving back and forth in time, breaking all causality, hesitating at each paragraph between realism and outlandish science-fiction. I guess he wanted the reader to react and say “these dreadful events that happened in real life are so crazy that they may just as well be fiction”, or “these events were so dreadful that people may just have gone mad from witnessing that”. Yet at the same time the structure is so disjointed that readers need a lot of attention to figure out where and when they are, instead of being moved by or caring about the characters. It is disturbing, and I’m not so sure that he reaches his goal, that we end up appalled against war. Of course, it’s black humor when every time someone dies, the narrator adds: “So it goes.” But it still gives out such a sense of fatalism that we might end up dumbstruck, or even cynic, instead of being appalled.

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4 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (1969)

  1. – Do you know that the author recently died?

    – Yes indeed, that’s why I’m borrowing the book in the first place.

    – It’s good that some authors die, so that their books may be checked out for once.

    …This sounds exactly like dialogue from a Vonnegut novel!

  2. Hmmm… the librarian needed a break. I have never read Slaughterhouse Five (even though it was my elder brother’s bible for a few years). I read Breakfast of Champions though and thought it was good, though I remember little about it all these years later…

  3. Pingback: A Library Meme « Smithereens

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