1001 Group Read-December, 2012: Slaughterhouse Five

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1001 Group Read-December, 2012: Slaughterhouse Five

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Dec 1, 2012, 2:36am

I picked my copy up at Half Price Books in Houston, TX on Thursday and will start on it as soon as I finish my current read. I am looking forward to your comments about your reading experience.

Dec 2, 2012, 10:20am

As luck would have it I finished my latest Kindle book (Life of Pi - most excellent!) on the last day of November was able to start Slaughterhouse-five on the first of the month.

I've read about 2 thirds of it and was very much enjoying it until my Kindle Battery died...


So it goes.

Dec 2, 2012, 1:14pm

Well, just finished it and thought it was excellent.

One question which I think might provoke some interesting discussion is whether this book should or could be described as "Science Fiction." Any thoughts?

Here's what I wrote about the book on my progress thread:

I loved it. It was unashamedly scattered and bizarre but it had my brain buzzing away the whole time I was reading it. After finishing the book I read that it has been criticised for being fatalistic and quietest. However, without any knowledge of the authors intent or context, it felt very much to me more like a parody of fatalism. Or at the least, a fatalistic attitude was a way of dealing with the horrors of war (along with a comfortable descent into madness.) The 'So it Goes' refrain created what might be described as a 'leitmotif' for death. While on the surface it was used to highlight the insignificance of death, to the reader (or to this reader at least!) it acted as a constant reminder of the human element of death and destruction. The starkest example to me what a line which described bombers flying overheard which didn't drop their bombs, they were going somewhere else. This line had 'So it goes' tacked on the end, meaning that our usual response of immediate relief is hit with the reality that those bombers will still be taking lives that night.

Anyway, that more than enough waffle for one evening. Excellent book.

Dec 2, 2012, 2:07pm

Must be one of the fastest read in the history of 1001 Group Read. I'm still looking after my copy of the book ;)

Dec 2, 2012, 5:23pm

Finished last night. To be honest not sure what to say about this, so will just wait for other comments.

Dec 2, 2012, 8:06pm

I have to admit...I didn't really like this book. I don't get what the "it's a classic" hype is all about. It was fairly interesting but nothing to write home about. Oh well....another one down.

Dec 3, 2012, 9:25am

Im with you jillbone...I thought maybe I missed something with this one too.

Dec 3, 2012, 1:41pm

I'm about half way through and enjoying the book. Here are some thoughts at this point;

#3 - I could see it being science fiction, but a kind of "camp" science fiction like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not any quality science fiction like Asimov writes.

#6 - Let me see if I can address the issue of it being a "classic". It all has to do with the date that it was published - 1969. At that time the big thing in the US was the war in Viet Nam. We were not winning, the American public watched the war every evening on the television news. We watched our boys being blown up, the jungle exploding in orange and yellow clouds of napalm, Hanoi being saturation bombed everyday, and protesters filling the streets of America. Now, along comes Slaughterhouse Five - a publishers dream. It was an overnight, anti-war sensation. It has indeed lost a lot of its meaning in that regard because it was a book for it's time. Much like The Jungle, which we just finished, it was a book written to address/expose/question a specific issue. I guess one has to ask, "Now that the issue is gone, what good is the book?"

Dec 5, 2012, 10:31am

Well, I finished it last night and I think it is great. Writing style-I think the writing style is easy and very readable. I laughed out loud in several places. Writing Technique-I enjoyed the technique of using time travel to tell the story. I don't know that this technique is unique, but for this book, it worked--at least it worked for me. I'd say there are very few characters in the book that I really connected with. In fact I can't think of one. But, then for a farsical, fantasy book, I'm not sure it matters, particularly if the story overall is good. I give the book 4 stars.

The one thing that I have not been able to figure out (and I would like to hear some other comments on this) is whether the narrator--who in the end is Vonnegut himself--is being portrayed as having a compulsive behavioral problem. Of course I'm talking about the phrase "So it goes." Everytime he referrs to death or a word synonimous with death, he plugs in the phrase. Especially after the word "dead." So it goes.

This seems to me to be some kind of a psychosis and wonder if that is what Vonnegut is trying to portray. Is he saying that POWs by-and-large came out of their WWII experience with some type of psychotic issue? As I moved along through the book, I found myself looking for the use of a death related word where he failed to use the phrase, but did not find one. So it goes.

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Dec 6, 2012, 4:40am

That's an interesting thought George.

Early in the book he explains (IIRC) that the Tralfamadorians say 'so it goes' when someone/thing dies to emphasise that death is essentially just a meaningless event (since they are still alive at other infinite points in time.) This could be the way that a soldier's mind is forced to work to deal with the scale of death that they see.

Dec 7, 2012, 10:35am

I've never read anything by Vonnegut before but this book certainly makes me wonder about his other writing. It has this very particular story to tell, and it lets you know that right upfont, and then it cannot tell that story because it is untellable. Like Billy Pilgrim not telling his wife about the war. We keep getting the periphery of The Story, and the periphery is full of "so it goes"'s (the signal of death, its war-made meaninglessness). But I am 2/3 through the book and I have a feeling that the tale of the bombing of Dresden will not be the climax. Right? We will see Edgar who's-its being shot for stealing a tea-pot, which is what we've been expecting to see, but there aren't enough pages in this book to hold all the "so it goes"'s that that night would need.

This book is a fascinating contrast to Schindler's List which we read as a group read last year. I could not manage to read that book because it was just one horror after another. Each one was a near knock-out punch. Slaughterhouse Five on the other hand is very easy to read. Nothing knocks you out. So it goes.

Dec 17, 2012, 3:53pm

I finished the book this morning. An easy read and I enjoyed it. I wouldn't class this as science fiction - the whole "abduction by aliens" story seemed to be a mental reaction to dealing with the death he witnessed (like the "so it goes" fatalism) rather than "real". A good read. 4/5

Jan 2, 2013, 9:18am

I just finished this one (late to the party as usual) and I wish I had of read this thread first because you all clarified a few things - thanks! I have tried Vonnegut before and didn't get far so I was a little apprehensive about this one. But it was quite good.

I saw the Tralfamadorian part as him feeling like a puppet on a string; on display and being manipulated into a specific role. He read this plot line in a Trout novel and then projected himself into the role. It feds into the 'so it goes' line - he felt that people are rather helpless and there really isn't much that can be done to stop this helplessly so we must plough on and deal with whatever comes our way.

And then the part with Edgar is the ultimate paradox. In war, there are few (if any) rules and one can kill with impunity. But as soon as you are removed from that, silly things like stealing a tea pot are punishable by death.

Hunh.. who knew that I would become a Vonnegut fan! Happy new year everyone...

Jan 2, 2013, 3:08pm

This was my first Vonnegut. I was underwhelmed.

Perhaps I've gotten to used to overly dramatic, visually rich stories like Weisel's Night and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief but I just felt no power behind the tale. Everything was seen at such an arms length that it failed to pull me in: to the story, to the character's feelings, to caring about the story at all. I read the final page thinking...who cares? I'm sure that was not the author's point.

That said, I'm not turned off by Vonnegut...yet. I'll try a few more to see if there really is no chemistry.