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

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I will preface this review with the statement that I had already fallen in love with Vonnegut when I read The Sirens of Titan many years ago. Sirens inspired a favourite sort of story within a story (adapted into 2081) and contains a line that has continued to fascinate me as much as it perplexes me: “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody “ she said, “would be to not be used for anything by anybody”.

I wanted to put the above statements first before saying that I didn’t really like Slaughterhouse-Five.

That is not to say this is not a good book or that you should not read it. It is merely that Slaughterhouse-Five was not what I expected.

As ever, Vonnegut’s words are pure poetry and a pleasure to read no matter the content. But poetry feels like a better description of this book as a whole rather than calling it a “story”. It’s filled with narrative flourishes and linguistic whimsy. However, I did feel like the narrative style (you’ll see what I mean if you read the book) does make reading between the lines somewhat more effortful.

For many readers this extra effort will, I suspect, be part of the enjoyment.There is a rich deeper meaning here with plenty of room for interpretation and personal reflection. It is easy to see why this text would be a popular choice with those with an educational background in literature.

But I couldn’t help but feel the whimsy and humour I found here required a deeper kind of thought than I had prepared myself to give. That’s not to say it wasn’t worth it and this is one of a handful of books I’ll even entertain the notion of reading twice (something I’ve almost never done).

This is definitely a book to read slow, enjoy, savour and read into, rather than a piece to be used for escapism. This was a book that dragged me in to think about myself. It was not a book that carried me away. As beautiful as the language and clever as the narrative style is; this felt more like taking medicine: I don’t really like it but I know it’s good for me.

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