Home » Books » Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

No spoilers.

“All of this happened, more or less.” Oh, how wonderful it is to finally understand why this opening line is so famous!

Slaughterhouse FiveThe book is framed (first chapter and last chapter) by an apparently semi-autobiographical account of how the author came to write his famous anti-war story. This meta technique surprised me, as I didn’t realise ‘postmodernism’ was quite so old. Then I got to thinking about how calling anything ‘modern’ is so obviously screwing yourself over in the future that it doesn’t make any sense and while pondering the supreme ridiculousness of it all I got distracted from writing this very review. So it goes.

(Okay, I willing to bet that almost every review of Slaughterhouse-Five on the internet uses the term “so it goes” semi-ironically at some point, and I’ve already done the exact same thing, so I’ll try to avoid doing so again but can’t make any promises. It’s already proved far too tempting.)

I was slightly taken-aback by the first few chapters, because I was confused at how such a seemingly silly story had come to be considered a modern classic. Not that I wasn’t enjoying it, you understand, it’s just that ‘quirkiness’ isn’t a trait one would usually ascribe to a ‘classic’ novel. As it turns out, that’s the very genius of the book. The realisation gradually creeps up on you without you even noticing; Slaughterhouse-Five highlights the horrors of war by juxtaposing it with its irreverent tone and satirical story.

I remember joking with a friend that “so it goes” is written more times in the first chapter of the book than “old sport” is written in entirety of The Great Gatsby. It wasn’t long afterwards that I clocked onto the fact “so it goes” was written after every mention of death or mortality in the novel. (Every. Single. Mention.) And “so it goes” is a phrase which concisely sums up the entire book. The humour and eccentricity of the term initially masks the fact that Billy is disturbingly detached from the horrors of war.

I realise I’m not writing anything particularly insightful here. My enjoyment of the most famous (and frankly, the most-obvious) aspects of the book probably read like a half-assed secondary school English essay, but hey, I liked what I liked.

I think you can ascertain how good any book is by its impact on your everyday life. Personally, I’m sure that for the rest of my life, when I’m casually browsing the sci-fi section of a bookshop, I’ll be keeping a half-hopeful eye out for a Kilgore Trout novel.

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