Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut | Review

Same cover as the ones from high school English.

Same cover as the ones from high school English.

Title: Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Publication Date: 1969
Length: 275 pages
Series?: Standalone
Genre: Adult Modern Classic (literary fiction)
Format: Paperback/Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Bull’s Head Bookshop/Audible.com
Goodreads

Summary

Billy Pilgrim was a solider in World War II who experienced the bombing of Dresden, Germany as a prisoner of war and survived. However, war changes people, and Billy Pilgrim becomes a bit unhinged. He is abducted by aliens and taken to the planet Tralfamadore, where he is watched like a prisoner in zoo and is given the power to travel through time…which he uses to revisit important points in his own life, including the war. The novel is non-linear, absurdist, and often hard to follow while remaining quite funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Review

Slaughterhouse-Five was a book I appreciated, but didn’t particularly enjoy. I imagine that a second or third reading would bring more out of the story and highlight Vonnegut’s brilliance. I could see the brilliance, but I had such a hard time even figuring out what was going on. And that’s clearly the point. War is absurd. Even when we think it’s not absurd, it’s absurd. And it sucks.

My first reading of the novel left me feeling unsettled, which I believe was the point. I was most interested in Billy Pilgrim’s account of the war, but the Tralfamadore bits also captured my attention. It was so unexpected to have both elements in the same story. It seems that the aliens take away Pilgrim’s free will, the fact that he becomes an optometrist after the war is some kind of metaphor, and the refrain of “so it goes” occurred any time death was mentioned. Other than that, I’d need to read the novel at least once more to start considered the real literary genius here. However, I think I came away with the overall message that war is bad and it breaks people. So it goes.

Notes on the Audiobook

The audio book was really hard to follow because of the jumping around in the timeline of the story. This type of writing is always easier to understand in print, and I would suggest a first time reader start with the print novel. However, anyone who has already read the story might enjoy the audiobook. Readers might gain additional understanding or insight from the new format. The best part of the audiobook, the little hidden gem, was a brief interview with Kurt Vonnegut included at the end of the story. It was fascinating to hear him talk about his own novel and experiences in Dresden during World War II, and his decisions to include those experiences in the novel using an absurdist narrative.

Final Grade: B+

I get the quality here, and I hope that my B+ is only a temporary rating. A future read might change that for the better, especially if I read the book in print next time. I did buy the print book and read along with some of the audio, so I didn’t completely miss the text. My experience with the novel was good but not great, so I’m interested to hear what y’all think of Vonnegut and his books! I’m thinking my next read of his will be Cat’s Cradle, though I may reread Slaughterhouse before that. Clearly this is already a book high school teachers are reading and teaching with students, so I don’t need to give my recommendation there — it belongs in school and public libraries, for sure!

Have you read Slaughterhouse-Five? Any Vonnegut? Thoughts?

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16 responses to “Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut | Review

  1. This is the second time Slaughterhouse Five has come up in my life today, and it’s not even noon. Weird! I haven’t read this one– it sounds kind of Jonathan Safran Foer-esque to me? (Although I know it came first)

  2. I have not read this book yet, but it is on my TBR shelf. I have the eBook, I just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. It was a book I was suppose to read in high school, but my class never got around to it.

  3. I really liked this book. To me it was a reflection on what war does – and takes from – citizen and soldier. KV witnessed the bombing of Dresden firsthand, bottled all that emotion and yuck up for years before writing about it. I like his avenue of approach.
    Good post!
    Laura

  4. I found this book fascinating, but I was distracted by my inquiries into the Dresden bombing. It was so disturbing that it began to take over – pretty hard considering there were aliens in the story. I found it very profound. I wrote a review of it as well earlier this year. Overall, it’s a pretty intense read, for sure.
    Also, I can’t imagine listening to it on audio. I’m sure that was…disorienting to say the least.

  5. Vonnegut is my favorite author, but it’s ok if you don’t like him. There’s something jaded and off-kilter about him, which is what I like most about his work. My favorite of his books is Timequake, which is a nice wrapping up of his Kilgore Trout story arc.

  6. This is in my Top 5 I’ve read. In fact, being an English teacher, it’s one of my favorite novels to teach as well. The layers of the story never end, and trust me, a second, third and even fourth read, you’ll find even more of the literary genius. My grade for it has continue to go up.

    A few tips for your second reading, focus on the meaning/concept of time, the colors blue and ivory, and dogs barking. Also, the Children’s Crusade analogy is interesting if you’re looking for some historical context as a supplemental reading.

    I enjoy the guy’s dry, corny sense of humor.

    Lastly, just wanted to share my two favorite quotes from the novel: “How nice–to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.” And, “She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies.”

  7. I love Vonnegut, but it’s been a long time since I read Slaughterhouse Five. It’s not my favorite from him, although its probably his most well-known book. Bluebeard was my first Vonnegut read and it is wonderful, very opposite from the rest of his work and not in a bad way. You still get the same biting criticism but it isn’t SF.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Vonnegut and it’s framed in my office: “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

  8. I haven’t read it, but every time someone back in VA mentions it, my mom has to tell people that the character of Billy Pilgrim was based on my grandpa’s brother Billy whom Vonnegut met in the war. I hear it ever trip home. Maybe someday that means I should actually pick up the book and read it…

  9. It is not an easy book to read, the truth is that the first time I poorly understood and almost nothing, the second time some more, may the third reading go me better.
    The same thing happened to me with Sirens of Titan. but I think the books both are worthwhile.

    “All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.”

  10. I am catching up on blogs from the last couple of weeks and it is so funny, all your posts are hitting on books that have been on my mind lately. Anyways, my husband is huge Vonnegut fan and has told me I need to read him. He recommended starting with Breakfast of Champions, since I’ve tried Slaughterhouse 5 before and it was just too weird for me to get into. So we’ll see. Maybe I will be able to appreciate Vonnegut at some point.

    • I really do think it needs a second…and third…and fourth read for me to really appreciate all that’s going on . It’s certainly weird, I’ll give it that!

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