Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Bookstart: Share 20 books in 2012 & Kurt Vonnegut

Location: Anywhere you're near a book!

Joining well-known faces such as Gruffalo author (and Children's Laureate) Julia Donaldson and War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, I've recently made a pledge (and a silly balloon on my Twitter profile) to a great cause: to share 20 books in 2012.

This is part of a Bookstart campaign to get everyone to share books with their families and friends. Bookstart itself is aimed at helping children start reading, but hey, you can share books not just with children. This is what they recommend:

How can you share 20 books?
  • reading picture books with your own children or other members of your family at bedtime or at anytime!
  • reading to a group of children in a school or a library
  • joining a reading group
  • recommending books to your friends
  • posting a book review on a website.
I'm probably just going to do the latter two. In previous entries, I've already shared with you the wonders of The Hunger Games, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Diana Athill's STET, TS Eliot's Four Quartet & Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach... so it's really easy to continue onwards writing reviews about another dozen or so books for the rest of this year. 

So for Book #7, I will talk about Slaughterhouse Five


Author: Kurt Vonnegut

First of all, it is embarrassing to admit that I only read Slaughterhouse Five recently (over Easter holidays). Secondly, I have always thought that Slaughterhouse Five is about a group of children solving mysteries.

Yes, I mixed it up with The Famous Five, haha!

So naturally, I didn't really like it when I started reading, as it defied my expectation: why did the narrative launch immediately into a discussion about the representation of World War 2 (and in particular, the Dresden episode)? Where are the kids? Where's the mystery?

I started to like it by the end of chapter 1. It's very metafictional, with the author going on about how he's going to write about his war experiences authentically and correctly. He's very self-deprecating: 
I've finished my war book now. The next one I wrote is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: [...]
He does indeed give away the last sentence of his book, right in the first chapter. Very Joycean; very biblical.

Anyway, so the 2nd chapter brings us into this fictional account of Billy Pilgrim. That story itself is hard to appreciate, I think because the main character Billy is so difficult to like: he's quite pathetic, bad things happen to him but he doesn't try to change his situation much. He is a Cassandra-like creature, but the things he can foretell sound ridiculous. I really didn't like Billy Pilgrim, but the metafictional aspects of the story are awesome, where the I or me appears in the narrative as the 'author'. That is quite fun and unexpected. And I'm a huge sucker for metafiction.

Another quirky bit in the book is that whenever someone dies, or if someone talks about death (and this happens quite often!), the line 'So it goes' follows right after. This technique doesn't get old, and it's quite a funny yet resigned way of dealing with death.

Overall, the book is worth a read. It is actually ranked the 18th greatest English novel of the 20th century by Modern Library. In any case, if you must read only one satire on the world war, you should skip this one and pick up Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Catch-22 is quite lengthy, but it's absolutely a laugh-out-loud kind of novel.

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