Slaughter-House Five

Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Published by Rosetta Books
Published 1 July 2010 (first published 1969)
285 pages
Prime Reading

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War is inevitable, and it is absurd. The main theme of the book focuses on this. Billy Pilgrim is a prisoner-of-war at the hands of the Germans. He is captured and put in a disused slaughterhouse, which eventually proves to be a safe ‘shelter’ when his life is spared during the bombing of Dresden.

Billy is a fatalist. Barely out of childhood, his lack of enthusiasm for war and the eventual consequences of the war on his life is what makes up the story of Billy’s life. Vonnegut uses Billy to show that war is unnecessarily glorified, due to which people overlook the real tragedies and trauma that war actually brings with it.

Billy’s journey through time and space, his accounts of the bombing at Dresden, and his life as a prisoner of war, all highlight the central theme in the novel, war is nothing but another form of hell. Dark humour and irony is what makes Slaughterhouse-Five unique and a perfect example of creative accomplishment. It conveys the bitterness of war, while providing comic relief along with crucial understanding of the working of the human mind.


All this happened, more or less. The war parts anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.


I’ve heard Slaughter-House Five lauded as one of the greatest novels of all time. So I thought I’d give it a try. I wish I hadn’t bothered. I really don’t get the point of it all. I have the vaguest notion of what I just read. WTF? I get that the book is clearly anti-war and probably has an important message to say but it just left me cold. Is Billy really abducted by aliens or is he just hallucinating? Reading other reviews it seems to be assumed he was abducted but I felt this wasn’t clear for me in the book. I really love books with time travel but I just found Slaughter-House Five a jumbled and confusing mess. The whole premise isn’t put together very well. Is it an anti-ware satire? Is it science fiction? Make up your mind please, because if the book is both of these things it doesn’t hold together well. If Billy is abducted by aliens I fail to see what relevant his experience as a prisoner of war has? I felt Slaughter-House Five was a confusing mess (in a bad way) and I wouldn’t recommend it. I wouldn’t read any of Vonnegut’s books either.




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