Thursday, 23 June 2011

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse Five

So it goes...
 Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a book overloaded with genres and satirical wit. Part science fiction thriller, part war-journal, all tied up with elements of time travel and pre-determined events, it crams in a lot of information for something that is under 200 pages in length. It focuses on Billy Pilgrim, a soldier during World War 2, who appears to flit back and forth along his own time line experiencing himself before, after and during captivity by Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. A race of aliens, know as Tralfamadorians (who resemble upright toilet plungers with one green eye) abduct Billy and teach him about forth dimensions. Confused? It’s a bit of a mind-screw to say the least.


I’m not sure if there was a part of me that didn’t ‘get’ this book – I think perhaps a ‘me’ in another dimension probably understood it and herald it as “the greatest thing since Halo Reach.” I got quite hung up on the time travel aspect, which I’m afraid is going to reveal my ignorance, as I viewed the book and Pilgrim’s jumping around not as something like a series of cuts in a tv show or film (which, after discussion - it perhaps was written as this, so it goes). I viewed or experienced Pilgrim's life as a  progressive piece – he was ACTUALLY travelling in time from my perspective, begging the question – why didn’t anyone say “where the hell did you come from?” every time he popped into view. Then I came to understand – Pilgrim is perhaps everywhere – he is existing all the time on his own time line, everything that is happening to him is happening at the same time, including his death, even though he’s not really dead, because as the Tralfamadorians state, “at some point you are both dead and alive all the time” – Aliens, eh? Bunch of forth dimension wackjobs if you ask me.

There’s not much to say about Billy Pilgrim; a character that was fairly one-dimensional, who was for all intensive purposes, trapped to face inevitability. He was nothing more than a porter guiding the reader through his mind; one that was so fragmented and disjointed due to being unstuck in time. He showed little or almost no emotion; playing the part of someone struck dumb and seemed devoid of any real warmth and feeling. I felt myself not really caring for the character, which had no real life. In fact, I found I pitied him more than anything.

I admire Vonnegut’s style – his constant use of the arc words, “so it goes”, his inclusion of an author avatar in the form of Kilgore Trout (a man that has a militia of paper boys under his command because he’s too old and lazy to deliver them himself). The way he constantly mentioned the fate of Edgar Derby, laying it on so thick, you could have built a house with the amount it was referenced – and then Vonnegut has Derby shot in a throw-away sentence, leaving you wondering the point to such a build up but admiring the way such a character is so heavily referenced and then dispatched like someone crossing out an offending line of text.

Part of me wonders if the book is all about acceptance – it’s about resigning yourself to a fate that you know is going to happen, so why bother changing it. That’s the attitude the Tralfamadorians have – why bother, when you know you might as well make the most of what you’ve got and be happy. I suppose this is easy to say for something that resembles a toilet plunger on legs; I mean, life can't get any worse, right?

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