Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1969)

Putting my pants on back to front this morning made me think of this madly sane and funny anti-war book. 

Preface. Those things sticking up in the air are my hands. I don’t pretend to follow some of what goes on with the intergalactic hero Billy Pilgrim. I’ve always thought of his journeys as blameless, get-away-from-it-all escapes into his head. (For me, that would be too echoey.)

Vonnegut uses three main pulses throughout. Given their make-up, they’re tricky to carry off with panache. Especially in a book that’s frightening one moment, funny the next, and freaky the one after. But the pulses give us emphatic beats in which to absorb the message, pause for thought.

So, let’s touch on those. Oh, and also want to share some flair in describing a sexy lady. Hell, why not.

But first, if you haven’t read it already (what you been doin’, then?), at the heart of the book is the bombing and fire storm of Dresden in 1945. Think devastation. Think desolation. Think death. Think really nasty shit. Everywhere.

The first is chocolate brownie. Oops, no, sorry – I’m eating one. The first is ‘blue and ivory’. Kurt could’ve just gone with skin and blood and bones. But then we wouldn’t get a sense of the once-fragile now cold, lifeless, deoxygenated flesh, and the precious and fragile feet and hands and skulls and blades and caps and carpals, all blown to smithereens. Everywhere. And so severely un-put-back-together-again-able. Devastation.

The next beat’s neat. A simple phrase, ‘A big dog barked.’ So what? Big dogs do. But put lots of them in that bombed and bleak wasteland and your winker will wince with every woof. Desolation. An example:

Somewhere a dog barked. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.

Sidebar. Reminds me of the dogs of Dagoretti. No, not a shit Welsh-Italian poet but a district of Nairobi. Overrun by packs of feral guard dogs, it was. When there, you stayed in your car. About 400-odd moons ago, we used to settle down to our sundowners (always joyfully early on the equator) with those hounds baying away in the background. Eerie. Even eerier when they stopped. No doubt got to the offal of some hapless tourist.

Anyways, back to this brilliant book. Those bow-wows keep a-howling here and there along the way reminding us of the wild and empty aftermath, just in case we’re getting complacent with Vonnegut’s funny bits peppered through the story.

The third recurring pulse is death, summed up in Vonnegut’s ‘So it goes.’ (I spotted 37 instances.) It’s everywhere. And there ain’t a god-damned thing you can do about it. I always think of it as ‘shit happens’. A kind of get over it, it’s beyond your control. An example:

His mother was incinerated in the Dresden fire-storm. So it goes.

Now before you go throwing that rope over yonder beam and looking for a stool, here’s some sexy style to cheer you up.

Maggie White… was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.

Great way of putting it. A lesser writer would have merely gone with something like ‘voluptuous’ and then chatted about her shapes.

You can just see all those tail-waggingly keen males yapping and stotting with excitement.

Dogs again. Don’t get out of your car.

Thanks for being here.

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Guy Nicholls

Writer and book bore.

2 thoughts on “Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1969)”

  1. I enjoyed your blog. Your style this time reminded me of that gonzo architect Hunter S who I originally read when we were all in HK.

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