Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five was always one of those books that I knew about but had never actually read. I knew that it was about World War II and vaguely had something to do with aliens, but other than that I was pretty much in the dark. During my winter break this year I decided that it was high time for me to actually read this well-known classic novel. From what I had heard about it, it was a recipe for success. History, time travel, aliens– what’s not to love?
It has taken me quite some time to gather my thoughts about Slaughterhouse Five, so much so that at the time that I’m actually writing this review nearly three weeks have passed since I finished reading it. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to separate this review into three different parts: strengths, weakness, and my opinion overall.
- “So it goes.” This phrase is repeated whenever someone dies or death is discussed in the novel. Vonnegut’s use of repetition in this regard emphasizes the idea that death is an unstoppable fact that we need to accept and come to terms with at some point. It’s such an interesting way to impress this concept on the reader– even more interesting because it’s actually quite effective.
- Time travel. I viewed the time travel aspect of the story as a kind of representation of PTSD or general trauma that soldiers experience after war. For the main character, Billy Pilgrim, the past seems just as the present moment, similar to how I imagine experiencing PTSD might feel (although I have no experience with it, so I’m not quite sure). Not only did the time travel present in this novel have a more serious connotation with war, but it also added an interesting and entertaining layer to the story.
- The Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians are the aliens that abduct Billy Pilgrim at one point in the novel. They view time as an open book already written rather than as a chronological line, which I thought was an incredibly fascinating idea. I loved learning more about their culture and values as a species because it made me think about how aliens would view Earth today. Also, the mix of warfare, aliens, time travel, and WWII history makes for quite an interesting combination!
- The narrator. For the majority of the novel, the narrator is omniscient; however, during the first and final chapters it seems as though Vonnegut himself is speaking. This begs a few questions: Is Billy Pilgrim representative of Vonnegut? Or is this simply the story that Vonnegut has been struggling to write, as he says in the preface? While reading this book I thought of Vonnegut as both a fictional character (the narrator) and as the real life author… it definitely made for an interesting reading experience!
There were several times throughout this novel when I was confused or just didn’t understand why something was happening. I feel as though my main complaint when it comes to the plot of Slaughterhouse Five is that it seemed so spontaneous that it was too fragmented and disjointed, at least in my eyes. Hopefully by rereading this book in the future I can better understand why the events occur in the order that they do. My guess is that they are all interconnected by a common thread, but that I was too focused on understanding the bigger picture of the story to concentrate on the tinier details.
I feel as though I’ve said the word “interesting” a million times in this review, but it’s for a good reason: this book really was interesting. It was confusing and heart-breaking and clever and witty, but most of all it was interesting. To say that I am intrigued by Slaughterhouse Five is an enormous understatement, and I will definitely be rereading this novel and taking on Vonnegut’s other works in the future.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Especially if they were a fan of history or science fiction. (What a combo!)
Have you read this book before? What did you think of it? What other books by Kurt Vonnegut would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!