Friday, 2 May 2008

Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut

I am not sure when I last read this. It must be thirty years ago. It is interesting to see that it has stood the test of time. Almost. Or perhaps it is me that has failed. I do remember thinking it a great book when I first read it. Now? Almost.

The trouble is, it seems to me like it is trying too hard. There is one layer too many of artifice in there and it shows. The structure is fine. That was nothing new at the time and it works well. Besides, the form of the novel is explained within the novel in one of those internal consistencies of which the author is so fond. We are told what the book will be like. The use of science fiction tropes and the thinly disguised portraits of those within the sf world is also fine, although in the end unnecessary (unless as a rather hackneyed means of conveying mental instability) as I find it detracts from what I take to be the central anti-war theme.

Where it has not stood the test of time is in its voice. I suspect when the book was new I was forgiving of this and certainly less well equipped to consider such points. I found it annoyed me this time round. It is too self-consciously naïve, which in the end works to contradict itself. I was heartily sick of the repeated ‘And so it goes’ by thirty pages in, and felt I was being talked down to most of the time. This eroded any enjoyment I might have had in revisiting the novel.

I would still recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. It is still one of the better works of later twentieth century western literature, dealing with universal themes in an accessible manner. For me, however, its charm has faded. I would give it a B.