Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut wanted to write a book about the bombing of Dresden during World War Two, a book which didn’t glorify war… He succeeded.

This isn’t an Autobiography, although it contains elements of that (most notably during the first chapter and at end of the book). No, this is a Science Fiction novel – the  main character, Billy Pilgrim, is kidnapped by aliens and routinely becomes “unstuck in time”.

While reading Slaughterhouse-Five you’re never quite sure what will come next in the narrative. The majority of the book focuses on Billy’s experiences during World War Two, though.


Razor sharp; satirical; and completely absurd. Delivers everything it was supposed to and more…

Book Review: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut


    Publisher’s Synopsis:

Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding ‘fathers’ of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to humanity. For he is the inventor of ice-nine, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. Writer Jonah’s search for its whereabouts leads him to Hoenikker’s three eccentric children, to an island republic in the Caribbean where the religion of Bokononism is practised, to love and to insanity. Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut’s cult tale of global destruction is a funny and frightening satire on the end of the world and the madness of mankind.

    My Review:

Cat’s Cradle is a cynical, comedic, witty, dystopian view of the future, written in tight, economic prose.

From the very beginning of the novel, the reader is made aware that ‘Ice-Nine’ will eventually be the cause of a huge, end-of-the-world scenario and within the plot Vonnegut presents so many obvious opportunities for Ice-Nine’s release into the world, that when the act finally arrives – in the last 25 pages – it almost feels like a relief. In other words, this entire story reads like an anti-weapons-of-mass-destruction manifesto as it seems designed to persuade the reader that if you make such a thing, eventually someone will use it. The other strong message here, is that war is a huge waste of human life:

They [soldiers] are murdered children…. And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children [dead soldiers] of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.”   p.182

Vonnegut also spends quite a few lines satirising the roles of politics, and of religion, in society.

Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth [poverty] was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies…. He asked McCabe [his friend the President] to outlaw him and his religion, too, in order to give the religious life of the people more zest, more tang…. And [so] McCabe and Bokonon paid a terrible price in agony for the happiness of the people – McCabe knowing the agony of the tyrant and Bokonon knowing the agony of the saint.”   pp.123-5

I found Bokonon’s invented religion great fun to read about. His teachings include advice such as “peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God”, information on the practice of boko-maru (the touching of two people’s feet, soul to soul) and other religious rites. The religious terminology is detailed and somewhat endlessforma, granfalloon, stuppa, calypso etc – but I didn’t actually mind that.

“We will touch our feet. yes,

Yes, for all we’re worth,

And we will love each other, yes,

Yes, like we love our Mother Earth.”

Somewhat predictably – because without this approach, Kurt Vonnegut would have found it much harder to mock society and to amuse us – there aren’t any characters in Cat’s Cradle, there are only caricatures. We meet a pushy, entrepreneurial American businessman; a scientist with poor social/life skills; and an extravagant and somewhat insane dictator, for instance. Still, nobody writes banter/dialogue quite like Kurt Vonnegut. Read just one of his books and you’ll want to read them all.

Jonah: “I’m not a drug salesman, I’m a writer.”

Julian: “What makes you think a writer isn’t a drug salesman?”

Jonah: “I’ll accept that. Guilty as charged.”

Julian: “Have you ever seen anyone die of bubonic plague?”

Jonah: “That unhappiness has not been mine.”

Newt: “For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of string in their children’s faces…. No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…”

Jonah: “And?”

Newt: “No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”

Book Review: And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks


Goodread synopsis:

More than sixty years ago, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac sat down in New York City to write a novel about the summer of 1944, when one of their friends killed another in a moment of brutal and tragic bloodshed. Alternating chapters and narrators, Burroughs and Kerouac pieced together a hard-boiled tale of bohemian New York during World War II, full of drugs and obsession, art and violence. The manuscript, called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks after a line from a news story about a fire at a circus, was submitted to publishers but rejected and confined to a filing cabinet for decades…

As I was reading:

p.36 – “There are a lot of different characters and agendas to keep track of and quite a few anachronisms. Still, it’s an interesting read so far.”

p.51 – “This book has ruined Twilight for me forever. I’m now imaging Al instead of ‘Edward’ standing in an oblivious person’s bedroom and it’s just creepy and funny and oh so wrong… #stalker-alert”

When I was done:

The story is based on Kerouac and Burrows’ own experiences, in 1940s New York.  In Kerouac’s own words this book is “a portrait of the ‘lost’ segment of our generation, hard boiled, honest and sensationally real” and by the end of the novel many of its colourful characters are either addicts, dead, in jail or in the army…  Don’t take this to mean that the novel is fast paced though, for – as the publisher freely admits on the jacket – it only “haphazardly drifts” towards its climax and so may bore or frustrate some readers.

I liked this book, but there was very little suspense built into the plot.  It read like a series of interrelated anecdotes – which were amusing and at times dramatic, but rarely thrilling.  So it was the historical and bibliographical tidbits in Hippos, which really captured my imagination, rather than the plot.  The ‘real’ characters, who inspired the fictional ones portrayed within its pages (Alan Ginsberg, Lucien Carr etc) are still as interesting to read about now, in 2015, as they’ve ever been.

 I’m now trying to decide whether I should watch the related 2013 film Kill Your Darlings, thoughts?