Mini classic review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”

I think I have to finally admit that classic dystopian novels are just not for me. I can see how this book has captivated so many readers, but they can’t count me amount their ranks

Slaughterhouse-Five is an interesting story as it blends unspeakable tragedy with a slight comic edge. The narration and plot structure is fractured and bends between the past, present and future in the life of our protagonist, Billy, and the reader is never really sure what is real and what is imagined by Billy … but unfortunately this writing element just resulted in me being incredibly confused.

The story is mainly made up of vignettes at different points in Billy’s life, with Billy occasionally time-travelling: his early years, his time as an American chaplain’s assistant during World War II, to his strange post-war time-travelling adventures in the future. And here I just lost the thread of what this book is about and didn’t bother trying to pick it up again. Essentially, the reader is not supposed to be sure if Billy is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or if he has a brain injury, or if he is genuinely time-travelling.

There’s a lot of anti-war messages in this book, which is what it’s known for, but personally I wasn’t impacted very much, mainly due to the strange structure of this book. I guess I’m just not a fan of ‘weird’ or experimental books, that much!


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