Published: March 1969
“Very good… This is a worthy read to tackle the subject matter.”
What Is ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ About?
Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
Why Did I Read ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’?
Slaughterhouse Five was mentioned in a recent book I read which prompted my interest. This was followed by me watching two interesting ‘Crash Course’ videos dedicated to the analysis of the novel and it’s numerous metaphors and hidden messages:
The more I read about this novel, the more it became apparent that this was an important piece of anti-war literature.
What I Liked About ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’
The first chapter feels autobiographical, the author introduces himself and sets the stage. It feels like it’s going to be a first person account of a horrific incident in the second world war with thought provoking anti-war messages along the way. The author even talks about the process of writing the book and the difficulties he had reciting everything. Things then suddenly switch into fiction and the perspective changes to that of the story’s protaganist Billy Pilgrim.
Initially this was disorientating, but as I read on I warmed to the narration and began to understand that everything had been intentional.
There is a wonderful section within the novel where Billy Pilgrim is watching an old war movie backwards (or he sees it that way) and he describes, with a certain poetic irony, a bombing run against Germany in reverse. The flames are sucked out of the city and the debris is collected back together and transformed into buildings, the shattered metal casing of the bomb is pulled together and flies into the sky back into the bellies of the planes. I loved this.
The introduction of aliens and flying saucers were a surprise but I viewed these as metaphors to make the reader look inward on the human race from a third person.
Kurt has a one liner that he calls on throughout the novel whenever someone dies: ‘And so it goes”. When it’s used its often in the wake of something tragic but it also carries an awkward humour.
Due to the fleeting timeline that the author has created with Billy Pilgrim’s time travel, it means that he’s able to have multiple stories running at the same time based in different time periods but using similar themes of abduction / arrest and therapy / alien observation.
There’s some powerful social commentary to be found in this book. The quest for a happy existence and the class system are poignant subjects.
The destruction and the aftermath of Dresden is suitably haunting. The landscape is compared to the surface of the moon, the hills of debris are jagged on closer look and fragile to touch. Overwhelmingly it was destruction that told you clearly that no one was supposed to live. No one was expected to survive.
The sentiment of this story seems to be summed up perfectly by the exchange between Billy and an old war veteran. When referring to the bombing of Dresden, he says: “It had to be done”, Billy replies: “I know”, the Veteran says: “Pity the men that had to do it”, Billy replies: “I do”, and then “It must of been hell” to which Billy replies “It was”.
What I Didn’t Like About ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’
Because of the jumping timelines, the reference of aliens and the mixture of world war tragedy – its all very displacing and uncomfortable in parts. There were sections of the story and I did’t enjoy frankly.
Good Or Bad
Was this book any good? Yes, very good. I’m embarrassed to admit my ignorance to the Dresden bombing prior to reading this novel, so I’m glad to have learnt an important piece of history in such a unique way. This is a worthy read to tackle the subject matter.
Would I recommend it? Not for everyone, so very much dependent on the reader. I would emphasise it’s an important moment in history which deserves to be read about.
Would I read it again? Possibly. This would be an interest read second time around.
Here are some other reviews:
Paper Towns by John Green
Parable Of The Sower by Octavia E. Butler
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
On Writing (A Memoir Of The Craft) by Stephen King
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
What’s on the list?
The Hidden Legacy by GJ Minett
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The Perks Of Being A Wallfower by Stephen Chbosky
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David P. Philip