Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

FiveHow do you almost make it to your 30th birthday without picking up any Vonnegut? This was the question I asked myself at the end of 2013 as I was making my 2014 author ambitions list for a booktube video. I realized I’d hyped him up in my head and was now intimidated to open one of his novels. He’d become this giant mythical literary thing that would be over my head and far too dense to make any sense of. What utter silliness.

Billy Pilgrim is a lackluster soldier thrust into the middle of WWII unprepared. Almost immediately he’s captured by the Germans and sent to Dresden as contract labor. In his spare time, he travels back and forth in time to different points in his life – his birth, his childhood, his post-war career as a successful optometrist, and even his own death. Billy is unstuck in time. He’s also abducted by aliens.

Slaughterhouse-Five is in some ways autobiographical. The novel is bookended in Vonnegut’s own voice as he discusses his challenges with telling this story about his time in WWII. Billy Pilgrim becomes his narrative vehicle. The reader follows along with Billy as his life’s story unfolds not chronologically but in bits and pieces – out of order – creating a very disorienting mindspace within the plot. It mimics the confusion and psychological effects that soldiers feel as the result of war trauma. Getting to experience this disorientation as the reader – even in such a small way – helps you connect personally with Pilgrim, and ultimately, Vonnegut.

What surprised me most was how engaging and accessible I found Vonnegut’s prose. Slaughterhouse-Five manages to be a plot-drive novel filled with utterly delightful dialogue that is never boring. That’s not to say the book lacks literary merit. The book brims with themes of time and freewill. To be honest, I’ve never read such a well-expressed anti-war novel. There’s no preachiness. There’s nothing emotionally manipulative or overly sentimental. Hell, most of the thing is sarcastic and funny and enchanting. I loved every page and was sad when it ended. Give me more Vonnegut, she cries!!


13 thoughts on “Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Oh how I love this book!

    I actually came to it in a similar situation, I’d got to my late 20s never reading anything by him and suddenly decided this needed remedying. I’ve read a few more books by him now, and of those SH5 is still my favourite.

  2. Writing from inside the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (my employer) in Indianapolis: Our favorite line in this wonderful review is “I’ve never read such a well-expressed anti-war novel.” Can you believe it’s still being challenged in this day and age?!

  3. Well I beat you and Relentless Reader (or rather, you beat me). I didn’t read this or any Vonnegut until I was in my 50s. I can’t say I loved SH5, but it’s fascinating. I sensed Vonnegut’s sadness the entire time I was reading, even in the farcical, silly parts, and hence, I felt sad reading it. Not necessarily a bad thing…good to feel sad about war, and it speaks to the craft of the writer. Anyway, I enjoyed your review.
    My review:

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