Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Publication Date: 1969
Length: 275 pages
Genre: Adult Modern Classic (literary fiction)
Format: Paperback/Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Bull’s Head Bookshop/Audible.com
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.
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?
- #71 Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (the100greatestbookschallenge.wordpress.com)
- loulamac’s #CBRV review #68: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (cannonballread5.wordpress.com)
- The Narrator That Didn’t Just Narrate (slh5945.wordpress.com)