Saturday, November 14, 2009


Vonnegut, Kurt. 1969. Slaughterhouse-Five. Delacorte Press. 205 pages.

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. (first sentence chapter one)
Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.
(first sentence of chapter two)

How would I describe this one? Weird but in a mostly good way. It's an odd little novel--to be sure--what with Billy Pilgrim's voyaging in and out of time. The brief moments here and there that the reader gets glimpses of. Shuffled memories of a hard life. We spend a lot of time with Billy during the war--World War II for those that may not be familiar with this one. He was a prisoner of war. He was a survivor of the Dresden bombings. If the "time travel" doesn't weird you out, perhaps his kidnapping by aliens will. You'll learn a lot about Tralfamadore along the way. But it is an almost always compelling read, one that was hard to put down.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

The time would not pass. Somebody was playing with the clocks, and not only with the electric clocks, but the wind-up kind, too. The second hand on my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again. There was nothing I could do about it. As an Earthling, I had to believe whatever clocks said---and calendars. (19)

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes." (25-26)
Because this one focuses a lot on war, we hear "so it goes" a lot. I don't know that this one is for everyone. But I enjoyed it. It was more fractured narrative than what I'm used to, yet I still found a compelling story.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Ash said...

This was the first Vonnegut book I ever read, and I liked it. Later I read Hocus Pocus and Breakfast of Champions. Better.

Confuzzled Shannon said...

Yeah this book was weird and also memorable. I haven't read any other Vonnegut books so I don't know how they differ but I think this book is worth it to read at least once.

Amy said...

I liked this book too but I agree that it might not be for everyone. It was hard to put down though even when I started to wonder what was going on...

Mirek Sopek said...

Slaughterhouse No 5 is also important from philosophical point of view. The ages-long discussion of free will and the nature of time and destination underlie its narration.

I wrote about it in an extensive way at my recent post.

For my review of the book see my post "So it goes...".

In the another post to forum on this blog I praised Ethan's Hawke amazing reading of Slaughterhouse...

Serena said...

You're review has been linked here: