Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Reviewed by Guy Portman

 Slaughterhouse 5

{Contains Some Spoilers}

Narrated in a non-linear order, the story follows protagonist Billy Pilgrim’s journey through life. A married optometrist with two children, Billy is a veteran of World War II, and a survivor of the notorious fire bombing of Dresden. Billy is also a time traveller, having been abducted on his daughter Barbara’s wedding night by UFOs, and taken to the distant planet of Tralfamadore, a place with a fourth dimension and a very different appreciation of time. On Tralfamadore Billy is displayed as an exhibit, later being joined by a young actress, Montana Wildhack.

In 1968, Billy and a co-pilot are the only survivors in an aeroplane crash. Billy’s wife, Valencia, dies of carbon monoxide poisoning on the way to the hospital. On returning home following his release from hospital, Billy tells his daughter about his experiences with the Tralfamadorians. This angers Barbara, who insists that this is a result of her fortysomething father suffering from senile dementia.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a black comedy that fuses elements of science fiction and realism. The story is replete with ridiculous and potentially humorous details, such as the descriptions of the ludicrously dressed, gangly, awkward and detached war time Billy.

This, Vonnegut’s most acclaimed and influential work, is an anti-war book that is semi-autobiographical in nature – the author was himself imprisoned in Dresden during the infamous firebombing. Slaughterhouse-Five is a highly original and philosophical book that explores notions such as fate, free will, the meaning of life and the futility of war – serious messages that are coated with humour.

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