Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut

First Sentence: All this happened, more or less.

All this is brilliant, more or less. I can’t believe I haven’t read any Vonnegut up until now. If his other books are half as good as this I’ll definitely be reading some more. And soon. Inspired by the firebombing of Dresden in 1945 (which Vonnegut himself witnessed) this is an exemplary anti-war novel. Kind of similar to Catch-22 (both hyphenated titles, both incredibly funny in places) it truly is a remarkable piece of work  which is a joy to read right from the start. It follows Billy Pilgrim as he becomes ‘unstuck in time’, experiencing his life out of sequence, form the war in Germany where he lives through the Dresden bombing, to his capture on the planet Tralfamadore, to his post-war life as a succesful optometrist and ultimately to his inevitable and unavoidable death. So it goes. One of the main themes is free will/fate etc. which is explained by the Tralfamadorians in the middle of the book:

I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.

In other words, “There is no why”. This is definitely one of those books i can see myself reading over and over. Timeless.

* * * * *

Last Sentence: One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?

Last Sentence explained: This is unusual as we are told at the beginning of the book how it ends. In fact, we are even told the final word (Poo-tee-weet). Everything that happens happens. We know all about Billy Pilgrim, his war experience, his plane crash, his extra-planetary captivity, his death, and there are no other real, fully fleshed out characters in the book: ‘There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.’ It is not really concerned with what happens, more why. And as we know, there is no why. As Billy Pilgrim himself says near the end:

Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore.

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