Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

details
Title: Slaughterhouse-Five.
Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut.
Publisher: Dell.
Format: Mass Market Paperback.
Release Date: December 1991 (First Published 1969).
Pages: 215.
Genre(s): Science-Fiction.
ISBN13:  9780440180296.
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.

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War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. With humankind’s tendency to repeat history, it is no surprise that war seems inevitable and indispensable to all generations. It is through war that many believe progress is attainable for all civilizations—while others are convinced that war is nothing but a reminder of our failures. In fact, parallelly, some believe that death is a necessity, whatever form it takes, thus bringing them to go on and live their lives to the fullest, while others see it as an end that strips away any need for joy or peace. But what is the best outlook on life and death that all should abide by? Leave it to Slaughterhouse-Five to expose it all in a strangely satiric fashion. Nominee for the best-novel Nebula and Hugo Awards, the New York Times bestseller written by Kurt Vonnegut offers readers around the world a compelling and surreal experience that showcases the absurdity of war.

What is Slaughterhouse-Five about? Based on the author’s real-life experience as a prisoner of war during the infamous Bombing of Dresden in World War II, this story follows Billy Pilgrim, an obnoxiously casual kid who becomes unstuck in time. Throughout this tale, readers are invited on a journey through time as Billy Pilgrim grows up to become an optometrist, a soldier, and a father, while also experiencing one of the oddest experiences of his life as he finds himself captured by aliens called Tralfamadorians. Involuntarily skipping through time, visiting various key moments of his life, Billy Pilgrim’s adventure is Kurt Vonnegut’s ultimate anti-war piece stuffed with black humour to convey his message as ironically as possible.

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The story tackles a tragic yet significant subject by utilizing a unique style. Not only does Kurt Vonnegut resort to simple-structured sentences to tell his story in a very matter-of-fact fashion, but he also employs a messy non-linear narrative to recount Billy Pilgrim’s unfathomable life. This mosaic structure is at-most frustrating as the author’s intention of deconstructing life and taking away reason and logic to the overarching massacre that takes place sends the reader on a confusing escapade. This doesn’t get any better with the use of repetition as a technique for comic relief and desensitization. In fact, following any event that touches upon the subject of death in any way possible, the author ends the paragraph with “So it goes.”, which quickly becomes one of the most annoying sentences in the story with its over 100 lifeless and repeated uses.

Despite the flaws in the writing style that remained relatively unappealing, this classic tackles some thought-provoking subjects that undoubtedly brings me to give it a passing grade. One of its central messages is in a defeatist philosophy of learned-helplessness. Throughout the story, Billy Pilgrim grasps the Tralfamadorians’ way of life that allows them to have a positive outlook on life thanks to their conception of the fourth dimension. This approach is then observed through Billy Pilgrim’s behaviour and perception of countless events he encounters, including his own death. Through these lenses, the author tackles the idea of determinism when it comes to the evil humankind is capable of, like war, and the illusion of free will as humans continue to believe that they have a hand in what their faith is to be. Kurt Vonnegut thus explores these ideas through his story even if his story-telling method isn’t so accessible.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic non-linear anti-war time-traveling story denouncing the horrors thoroughly experienced by the author during the Bombing of Dresden in World War II.


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A 1972 movie adaptation was attempted by director George Roy Hill. It went on to win the 1972 Cannes Fill Festival Prix du Jury, a Hugo Award and a Saturn Award.

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37 comments

  • The premise sounds really good. I’ve actually never put Slaughterhouse Five on my TBR shelf, I guess the name put me off. But knowing this is based on the authors own experiences I think I’ll give it a go. Thanks for the review Lashaan ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  • Vonnegut has never held any appeal to me and knowing what I do about the story I’ve never been really tempted to try it to “broaden my reading experience”. I’m definitely not completely ruling it out but I would need some sort of compelling reason to dive into it.

    I had NO idea that a movie existed. How did you find out about it? Just random reading on Wikipedia or something?

    Liked by 2 people

    • And… I doubt I helped you out with this review then hahah. I still plan on trying a couple more of his books before deciding if his style is for me or nah.

      I actually assumed that it existed since every classic I’ve read so far has had at least one live-action adaptation attempt. 😂 IMDb then confirmed it for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  • I liked the book a lot, although not as much as Breakfast of Champions (Kilgore was for years one of the names I frequently used to name my RPG characters 😉 ) or Cat’s Cradle. An unusual anti-war novel, and out there with Catch-22… and perhaps not as good, but I confess I like Vonnegut’s style and humour. I remember seeing the movie, but being much less impressed than by the book…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahahahah I can totally see a giant warrior with that name too. I’ll definitely look into trying those two out though. Can’t rule him out just yet after one attempt at his peculiar style. As for the movie… I can only imagine how hard it must be to adapt this story! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  • I like the themes and messages you mention, but I am less certain I would get along with the wrapping and writing style. However, I have never read Vonnegut, so perhaps this would be a good one to try out.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Great review! I’ve been aware of this book for a long time but didn’t feel I could tackle it. I’m still not sure I will, but thanks for bringing it more to my attention 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  • This book, and Vonnegut in general, has been on my list for a while. It’s that desire to at least try as many of the classics as possible. I don’t know when I’ll get around to trying him, and I’m not sure if I’ll try this or one of his other books. But I appreciate the review. It tells me more about the book than I’d known before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is on that desire that I had initially an interest in his work, this one in particular. I do hear great things about his other work but if you’re curious enough, this one isn’t that bad either. Especially if you know what you’re getting into! 😂 Thank you so much for reading, Todd.

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  • I enjoyed the book so much also for the things that make it inaccessible – after all, those that experienced war are rarely able to talk about it, and never able to communicate their experience fully. I always thought of Slaughterhouse disjointed structure as a metaphor of a human brain going into a kind of shock caused by near-death experience and seeing not only the past but also possible futures or other paths not taken. Then again, I’d read it years ago and maybe my take on it today would have been totally different 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can definitely understand that. I wanted to appreciate the purpose behind the style but I was more distracted by it than impressed by it. I do like how you ended up seeing it in the end, giving it more credit than other readers could. Do you recommend any other Vonnegut novel in particular yourself?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m partial to The Breakfast of Champions, it’s a pinnacle of Vonnegut’s style, absurd and tragic and funny at the same time. Cat’s Cradle is solid, too, but not as good, at least in my opinion.
        I read a lot of war-related stuff, and I think – I hope, really – that I can appreciate how difficult it is to write about it as to not fall into banality or pathos. Vonnegut’s attempt is ambitious and unique, and true to himself, and that’s already elevating Slaughterhouse Five into a very exclusive category 😉 But I totally agree that this book requires a lot of good will and perseverance, and ultimately won’t strike a chord with everyone, stylistically insular as it is.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I appreciate the thoughts on his other work. It is true that the more original takes on the subjects make for more interesting reads when you already have read through a lot of those kinds of stories. Maybe in the far future, a reread of Slaughterhouse-Five will have me praising it as the best antiwar story of all time. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  • Now that I’ve had time to properly read this review my comment is …heck! I would not have been able to finish it due to his writing. If it ends up by not making any sense at all and having no logic I would have had a hard time!

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  • Great write-up sir. I’ve often heard of, or glanced at the title of this novel over the years but for some unknown reason never investigated it further (maybe I thought it was a straight-up slasher-horror story or something?). It sounds fascinating and a cool SF concept that comments on the ills of war…but, yeah, it really sounds like it’s fumble in the execution via the author’s attempts to be original and unconventional – which sometimes can be too smart a thing for it’s own good…so it goes (I think the over-repetition of one specific line would drive me crazy…although I had no issues with “Darkseid is”).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Chris! I too thought it was going to something else, maybe a historical fiction with a horror component to it since I knew it was sci-fi. Unfortunately, this is what it was and it’s not a very accessible read but definitely has its fair share of originality! And yes hahaah there are some forms of repetition that are far more digestible! It’s just how it’s used that ultimately kills it for me hahah

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t dared to watch the movie myself for now. I’ll probably pop a review of it on my blog if I ever do though. It would make for a good round of venting, I believe. 😀

      Although, I do think it must’ve been a nearly impossible task to adapt the book. The movie probably struggled a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

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