Slaughterhouse-Five

UnknownI read this to help my school figure out whether they should teach it at Year 11. My thoughts? No.

Yes it’s an occasionally humorous reflection on the horrors of war and yes it’s a clever enough look at life and history and expectations and blah blah but… I did not enjoy this book in the slightest. I did not even really appreciate it much for what it was doing and saying.

If the main point, or one of, is to communicate the horror of war, I guess it does it well enough. But I don’t feel that it’s particularly well done and there are a few bits that justify Mary’s early concern about making war notseem as awful as it really was. I don’t think anyone would come away thinking that war is a lark, but still… it really didn’t work for me. I think there are other books that do it better and without being quite so annoying.

The main problem for me is Billy himself. As much as I am a pacifist I find Billy’s acceptance of everything that happens to him, his absolute passivity, incredibly frustrating and annoying and, frankly, boring. As a fictional character: yes, I know that there are things in my actual life that are just going to happen and I can’t do anything about that, so I like reading about people who have a go at shaking life to try and make a difference. As a reflection on exactly that issue of the human condition: even we, in real life, don’t generally just here, passive. At least we talk or we rage or we complain or we act as though maybe there’s a modicum of free will involved. Billy – the man who just lands in places and does nothing (that we see – clearly he got through optom school but that’s never discussed) but still manages to have good stuff and makes no decision ARGH. Not a character who was ever, ever going to work for me.

And then there’s the women. Yeh yeh it was written ages ago and I don’t care. The daughter, the wife, the girlfriend – nags and obese and existing for sex (only the last two thankfully) and I felt like the hobo who died on the train almost had more humanity than the daughter and the girlfriend, especially.

If I read the phrase “So it goes” one more time I may physically react. Passivity that makes no attempt at improvement or alteration and even movement? No thanks.

2 responses

  1. Good review…which I completely disagree with, hahaha. I loved Slaughterhouse 5. Alex, I feel like your faith, which makes you able to enjoy other books that incorporate Christian philosophy more than maybe I would, might be stopping you from enjoying the philosophy of this book, which presents the possibility that eternal life is about being permanently present in a certain unalterable portion of space-time and not about choices, subsequent judgement or resurrection. Billy’s attitude reflects the absence of free will in a universe where human behaviour is entirely governed by causality.

    1. It’s quite clear that I am the odd one out in the entire universe re: this book! I wonder about the impact of being a Christian… I guess I don’t like the idea of there being no movement, but it’s not like I have antipathy to other books that completely disagree with my world view. So I don’t think that completely explains it, although it may contribute.

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