Traveller's Reviews > Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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Dec 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: po-mo, four-and-a-half-stars, books-by-men, 1001-books
Read from February 04 to 12, 2012


Kurt Vonnegut experienced the WW2 fire-bombing of Dresden as a private in the US army.
He says of the experience: "There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre" - and this is effectively communicated in the deliberate anti-climax to Slaughterhouse 5.

I seem to find myself pretty ambivalent towards Vonnegut. I like his pacifist leanings, and I find his use of an anti-hero and anticlimax as well as his ideas on time interesting.

Vonnegut manages to convey the disorienting effect of horror pretty effectively with his impressionist style. Bernard Schlink and others examine in an intellectual fashion how the horrors of WWII slipped by everyone so effortlessly at the time, but Vonnegut makes the numbing effect of the horror easier for the reader to understand on a gut-level, by portraying how powerless the 'little people' must have felt when it came down to the nitty-gritty.

Interesting to note is the bleak fatalistic leitmotif "So it goes" whenever something or someone in the novel dies. (You hear the refrain quite often, and it creates a chilling tally of how often death rears its head.

The bleakness of Vonnegut's subject matter is offset by his offbeat black humor. An example of the playful quality of Vonnegut's sense of humor is demonstrated when he even adds the "So it goes" leitmotif to a bottle of Coca-cola going 'dead'. ( or flat)

But... his method of employing an anticlimax also made me feel a bit deflated with regard to the ending of Slaughterhouse 5, which, in a sense, is, I suppose part of what he tries to achieve, especially given the bit of background regarding the feelings of his friend's wife that Vonnegut gives in the informal prologue to Slaughterhouse 5.

In the end, I feel a bit confused as to if I should read more work by him, wondering if he will have more to say - not quite sure how to express this... on the other hand, the fact that he is more subtle in what he has to say, also makes him pretty appealing, since I don't particularly value authors who are in your face and whose work reads too 'easily', or who don't say anything that leaves you with something to chew on.

I do enjoy Vonnegut's dark humor; it's almost worthwhile reading him just for that alone. So.. like I said, - I feel pretty ambivalent.
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Reading Progress

02/10/2012 page 120
44.0% "Wow.. Vonnegut manages to convey the disorienting effect of horror pretty effectively with his impressionist style. Bernard Schlink and others examine in an intellectual fashion how the horrors of WWII slipped by everyone so effortlessly at the time, but Vonnegut makes it easier for the reader to understand on a gut-level, by portraying how powerless the 'little people' must have felt when it came down to the nitty-"
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Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Traveller Ugh, don't tell me the thing about the soap made from human fat is true... *retches*


Traveller >>>When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman asked him, 'Can you talk? Can you hear?'
Billy nodded.
The Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity. 'My God-what have they
done to you, lad? This isn't a man. It's a broken kite.'
'Are you really an American?' said the Englishman.
'Yes,' said Billy.<< I think this stuff is brilliantly evocative..


Traveller I love the off-beat weird style Vonnegut uses to express himself: " 'Would you talk about the war now, if I wanted you to?' said Valencia. In a tiny cavity in her great
body she was assembling the materials for a Green Beret.


His way of saying she had been impregnated.


Traveller Shan wrote: "I would have to say my favorite Vonneguts are Sirens of Titan and Cat's Cradle, both of which I enjoyed a lot more than this one."

Thanks, Shan. I'll look into Sirens of Titan, which isn't on my list yet. Yes, but I think that at least Cat's Cradle is a must-read, eh?


Adam Floridia Sirens, Timequake, and Hocus Pocus get my nods for favorite.


Traveller Hmm, ok, perhaps Sirens will be next then. There seems to be some consensus on it. :) Thanks!


Scott Hey I have a question. Is this book explicit? Moreover, sexually explicit? Thanks


message 8: by Traveller (last edited Mar 21, 2012 09:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller Scott wrote: "Hey I have a question. Is this book explicit? Moreover, sexually explicit? Thanks"

I've been wondering why people would say that. The sex that takes place in the book is when the hero gets married, on his wedding night, and I don't remember that as being very explicit, and then there is also (more implied than actually described?) sex when Billy gets stranded on the alien planet Trafaldamore.


Those situations didn't really seem beyond the pale to me, but!

-there is a mention of a pretty disgusting porn photograph though, and possibly descriptions of porn while the hero is visiting a store, and there are some upsetting situations regarding suffering and death, so, if you're a very sensitive person or thinking of recommending the book to very young persons, you might want to be mindful of that.


Jean-marcel "Ambivalent" is a good description of my feelings toward him too. Strangely I enjoyed Cat's Cradle more than this one. I also find that his short stories sometimes bleed with a cloying kind of sentimentality and obviousness. But there's still....something about him. I'll read more, anyway.


Traveller Yes, apparently he was a bit of a **ck in real life, which makes all his nice sentiments a bit ironic.

..but you're right, there is something about him ..I think he is rather original and I love his quirky sense of humor, as black as it may be at times.


Jean-marcel About sex (referring to previosu comments here), I don't remember much in the book at all, but I guess explicit sex doesn't really register with me in any kind of way unless it's particularly well described or completely nasty or anti-erotic like the way Martin Amis does it. HOwever I do remember feeling it was a little strange, the way he described being in bed with his extremely obese wife...it wasn't the obesity itself that kind of gave me an odd feeling, more the way he described it, as though he was tempting you to feel that the whole thing was grotesque.


message 12: by Traveller (last edited May 09, 2012 12:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller Hmmm, on the one hand I thought it was kinda sweet that a fat ugly lady managed to get happily married and even 'happily laid' but now you mention it.. Also, the protagonist's reasons for marrying her was probably not the noblest and actually pretty mercenary.

..but probably it was done on purpose because Billy is an anti-hero, and not a hero. Actually, if you think about it, nothing in his life is glamorous except for his being kidnapped, which, depending on how you look at it, was probably just a fantasy of his.


Jean-marcel Well put. Yeah, his reasons were certainly not noble, but I guess in the end he was quite happy and satisfied, as was she....what else can most of us ask for? lol

I should add, as an aside, that I read most of this book ten years or so ago whilst sitting in some boring classes that I should have been focusing on instead. The book engrossed me and, as you say, the humour and tragedy was quite evident, in what I think might be a distinctly Vonegut-ish way, but ultimately I came away....not as moved as maybe I should have been.


Traveller Yes, I had the same feeling, especially about the ending. I know the ending is supposed to be an anti-climax; but I guess anti-climaxes just don't work that well for me.


Jean-marcel Part of the reason I liked Cat's Cradle is that I seem to remember the ending being a real kicker.


Steve Well said, Traveller. I like your take on this one.

We both now know another Vonnegut that our friend Jason recommends. That one sounds interesting and different.


Traveller Steve wrote: "Well said, Traveller. I like your take on this one.

We both now know another Vonnegut that our friend Jason recommends. That one sounds interesting and different."


Thanks, Steve, I liked your review of this as well! Yes,to get to more Vonnegut which is lower down on my list, faster, I've decided to up my input of fiction to 3 or 4 at a time, where I usually read about 4 books at a time, but at least half of it non-fiction. I have no idea if I'll get tangled up in the different narratives by doing this, but it's giving me a very interesting comparative 'feel' for different authors styles. (Currently doing Woolf, Mieville and Pynchon at the same time and decided to pretend to be continuing my half-read Murakami as well before I forget about it again.

It's quite a strange experience, this parallel reading, but I'm quite liking it.

So far Mieville is winning as the one I want to stick to for the longest periods before switching. :)


Steve That sounds like a great approach if, as you say, you can keep it all straight. I'm finding, though, that Pynchon by himself is fully capable of scrambing brains. It's impressive that you're able to succeed.

Mieville and Murakami are on my short list of new writers to try. I hear great things about both what with their truly inventive styles.


Jean-marcel haha, let me guess, the Pynchon is down at the bottom! :P

I hated Crying of lot 49 so much...


Cecily If you like Vonnegut's humour, try Galápagos. Great fun, but lots to think about as well.


message 21: by Shaun (last edited Nov 20, 2013 03:58PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Shaun I'm totally on the fence about this book and Vonnegut's writing in general. On one hand, he's obviously a talented writer and his work has something meaningful to say.

However, I teeter between finding his humor spot on and intelligent, and just plain annoying. For example, at first I found the "so it goes" usage to be somewhat powerful...but then it got old and seemed to suck power rather than add it.

I also find his mode of storytelling somewhat distancing and while I think what he is saying is important, I find myself having a hard time caring about his characters and thus to some extent his message.

I am reading this as part of a Library of America Collection of his work and this is the third novel in this particular collection. So far, all of them have been very similar in terms of style and tone...and to some extent even message. I'm still undecided and interested to read some essays of his that are included at the end of the collection along with a chronology. 90% of my GR friends that read this book gave it five stars, with only one or two giving it one or two. Of course, most of those friends who rated it highly didn't happen to write reviews to say what it was they loved.


Traveller Shaun wrote: " Of course, most of those friends who rated it highly didn't happen to write reviews to say what it was they loved. "

Ha, that's annoying! This is why I value a few written lines way above a star rating. You know the saying about "one man's meat is another man's poison" and different strokes for different folks.

I got the impression that with this specific novel, the sense of detachment was because Vonnegut (and Billy by extension) found it hard to deal with his war experiences and can only explore them through the eyes of a character who himself cannot deal with his experiences and who escapes into an imaginary world of make-believe to try and escape the hard realities of life.


Shaun Traveller wrote: "I got the impression that with this specific novel, the sense of detachment was because Vonnegut (and Billy by extension) found it hard to deal with his war experiences and can only explore them through the eyes of a character who himself cannot deal with his experiences and who escapes into an imaginary world of make-believe to try and escape the hard realities of life"

That may be true. I do know that this novel is very similar to the other two I've read thus far. All of them showcase his dark humor and satire and all of them include characterizations of characters and situations rather than actual stories I can invest myself in, though I can certainly appreciate the underlying message.

Again, totally on the fence about Vonnegut's work as a whole. Though, I think I understand why his work is so revered even if it's not exactly my favorite cut of "meat".

I had a similar experience reading "The Tenth of December", a collection of stories. I could see why it received so much praise, but I just oscillated between a sincere love and hate for the work.

I think Vonnegut is one of those writers whose works I could appreciate more if I would take the time to read an autobiography. Interestingly, I've had the same exact reaction to each book I've read.

Certainly appreciate your insights.


Seemita Very well summarized, Trav. Wonderful review! I, too, didn't see the climax coming and it sort of abruptly brought me to a halt. But I assumed it to be his way of telling us how fraught with knee-jerk reactions does our life become in a post-war scenario, as if we were almost injected with the warfare DNA that refused to leave us and which elicited absurd, non-routine responses to everything around us.


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