Title: Slaughterhouse 5
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Publication Date: 1969
Review Score: 8/10
War prisoner, farther, optometrist… time traveller, these are the different roles of Billy Pilgrim’s life. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, towards the latter stages of World War II, Billy, a less than heroic Chaplain’s Assistant, ends up with his fellow prisoners in a disused slaughterhouse in Dresden, where they hide out and survive the horrific Dresden Bombing that took the lives of over 25,000 people.
Some years later, Billy, now a successful optometrist, is abducted by the Tralfamadorians, a superior race which takes him to their planet and put him on show in the zoo, forced to live and mate with the famous model and actress Montana Wildhack.
The Tralfamadorians teach Billy about how time is not a continuous motion forward, but each moment continues to exist forever and can be enjoyed at any time. The book follows this line of thinking jumping through Billy’s time line, looking at the war, his abduction and all the major events in his life.
Bitter yet funny, ludicrous yet chillingly real, Slaughterhouse 5 is a moving anti-war novel, a stark examination of the human psyche and even a completely original piece of fantasy fiction. The writing is sharp and powerful, the characters are incredibly real and the ideas that surround this real event are incredibly original.
Do not expect a tangent, coherent piece of literature with a clear beginning, middle and end because you definitely won’t get it here. There is no definitive conclusion, no heroic crescendo, just an excellent piece of writing that definitely deserves to be on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.
Title: The Quiet American
Author: Graham Greene
Publication Date: 1955
Review Score: 7/10
Into the intrigue and violence of Indo-China arrives Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy through a mysterious ‘Third Force’. As his naive optimism starts to cause bloodshed, his new friend Fowler, a cynical and ageing foreign correspondent, finds it hard to stand aside and watch. But even as he intervenes he wonders why: for the sake of politics, or for love?
Those of you who follow this blog will know that so far I have avoided both war and romance based novels, going more towards the adventure and sci-fi genres, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with The Quiet American.
At first I thought the story would be quite bland and predictable, especially considering the end of the story is revealed in the first chapter! But by switching from past to present throughout the novel and giving away just small nuggets of information 1 at a time, it is continuously intriguing from start to end.
What’s more, the story is shaped by the beautifully tragic surroundings Greene places the characters in and describes so well. The constant flipping from fine dining to horrific war perfectly parallels the feelings of love and hate Pyle and Fowler have for each other, feeling at times like brothers whilst both fighting for the affection of the same woman.
It is not the most original or exciting novel ever but it is a love story beautifully told and well worth a read!
Set during the closing months of the Second World War, in an American air base of the coast of Italy, Catch-22 is the story of a frustrated and furious bombardier named Yossarian who can’t understand why thousands of people he doesn’t even know keep trying to kill him!
The number of missions he has to complete to go home keeps rising, he can’t figure out who is in charge the squadron and there is a dead man in his tent no one will acknowledge or get rid of!
Utterly horrific yet beautifully comic, totally insane yet gritty and real, Catch-22 takes the reader from one extreme to the other on every single page. Although set during one of the darkest times of human history I found myself literally bursting out laughing at some points.
What makes Catch-22 so barmy is the sheer insanity of the characters and their mental attempts to peruse Italian prostitutes, make money out of the war and of course try every stunt possible to get out of duty and be sent home.
The book throws a depressing yet hilarious light on the War and is truly a one off book, well deserving of its place on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List.
If you are not a fan of war novels please don’t be put off by the setting of the novel as it is so much more than a book about World War II, it is a great dark comedy, an insight into the complexities of the human mind and if nothing else an explanation behind the origin of the phrase Catch-22!