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Slaughterhouse-Five

Thu 22nd January 2015

Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a difficult story to decipher, but I think that was thematically intentional. Slaughterhouse-Five is a novel that purports to be about the fire bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, but very rarely addresses the issue directly. It skirts around this kernel through the mechanic of the protagonist becoming “unstuck in time”: in essence, his mind wanders to reliving events that have already happened or are yet to happen. Combine this with a sprinkling of alien abduction and you’ve got a story that leaps from the sombre to the surreal in a matter of sentences.

It is the context of this non-linear narrative that explains the lack of cohesion; in trying to tell the story of the Dresden fire bombing, the narrator tells us about everything else. This approach, I am fairly certain, is intended to mimic the conversational style, and perhaps even thought processes, of individuals that lived through and participated in such attrocities. It may even be reflective of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an affliction little recognised until many years after the great conflicts of the 20th Century.

As a novel, Slaughterhouse-Five read very quickly. This made it felt short, but there was no lack of story here. The language used is very short and quite simple (in the most part). In fact at one point I read a section of conversation out loud and I couldn’t help but feel it sounded like I was reading a children’s book (though maybe that’s the only time I practice reading books out loud!) This is not a criticism, just an observation as to why I read it so quickly. It perhaps also represents the everyday man that was sent to war, deliberately contrasting them with the highly educated and verbose politicians who decided to send them?

While Slaughterhouse-Five didn’t move me as deeply as perhaps it should have, it is very readable and gives excellent insight into the darkest side of a war that many of us are too many generations away from to know about. I expect I’ll read it again at some point, to better understand it.

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