Book Review- Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

My sister bought me Slaughterhouse Five a good long time ago, along with Under The Frog.  Both of which I recommend, I think, although neither is a barrel of laughs.  Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is one of those odd classics that you’ve never heard of before but everyone keeps telling you to read, and it sounds slightly more exciting than the Jane Austin bonnet-style of classic so you do.

The book is part fiction, part non-fiction, part fiction inspired by real events.  Vonnegut was a soldier in World War Two, he was captured by the Nazis and held as a prisoner of war as a result he witnessed the bombing of Dresden at the end of the war in which around 25,000 people were killed.   At the start of the book Vonnegut describes the difficulty he has had in writing about the bombing of Dresden, so in Slaughterhouse Five he tells the story of Billy Pilgrim instead.

Billy Pilgrim’s life has some parallels with Vonnegut such as being captured as  POW and witnessing the bombing of Dresden.  But he is also a time traveler, who moves forward and backwards through his life.  He also gets kidnapped by aliens.  You know, the usual story…

I suppose Vonnegut thought the subject matter would have been too dark without the odd sci-fi twist, it certainly offers a new way in to a grim story.  But I found Billy Pilgrim a frustrating character who never really seemed to connect with the things happening around him, this was made somewhat worse by the story jumping from one time to another.  The aliens explain to Billy that all time and moments always exist, so when someone dies they don’t really die they exist in another moment somewhere else.  This may why Billy seems unfazed the death around him and Vonnegut’s INCREDIBLY ANNOYING habit of saying ‘So it goes’ whenever someone dies- which happens ALL THE TIME!

I definitely struggled to get into the book until page 93- I don’t know why but I clicked with it then and romped home- it’s only about 150 pages long.  When Vonnegut’s own voice is clearly heard (he pops back in now and then) I was more interested.  I was more upset by the book when I knew it was real- it had happened to Vonnegut in a way I never felt it happened to Billy.

I’m glad I’ve read it, I didn’t really know anything about the bombing of Dresden before, and I found it interesting in form and content.  I just wish the main character had been a little more charismatic and a little less fatalistic.