Archive for September, 2007


two books this post. why? because famous author kurt vonnegut recently died and his best known work, slaughterhouse5, contained a time travelling protagonist and a narrative that jumped back and forth in time. these traits are also found in a very recent best seller – the time travellers wife by audrey neffenegger.

so bookgroupers thought lets compare two similarly themed and successful books, written 40 years apart.

however, beyond the time travel similarities between the books were rare.

slaughterhouse5 had an anti-hero. slaughterhouse5 had an axe to grind. a loud and angry axe, sharpenned on pages of pointless tragedy, and it yelled, in the spirit of the 60s, war – what is it good for?

less fashionably, for the time, it also yelled america what is it good for? and i loved it for that.

vonnegut has short sentences, bereft of ornament. like hemingway the big man of the previous generation of american literature, vonneguts sentences are so sparse they force you to fill the empty spaces with your own images. unlike hemingway however, vonnegut prose is also bereft of mucho bravado and pretense. more radically, vonneguts lead character in the book, billy pilgrim, is the antithesis of hemingway’s wealthy charismatic wasters and bull fighters. he refuses to fight, he’s unattractive, even mad, and yet vonnegut chooses him to be the lead character.

in contrast, ‘the time traveller’s wife’ has a heroine and no axe to grind. instead it has a love story and attractive lead characters, even, in a curious way, happy endings.

‘the wife’ was also different from vonnegut because it had rich, velvety prose that you could smell, and surrender to. ‘the wife’ described everything in 3d technicolor, whereas vonnegut prose is sparse black and white, giving you just enough details so that you can make up the rest of the image.

although ‘the wife’ was not preachy, neither was it smaltzy. it may be about love and pretty people but its also about humanity, nasty as we are. while it could be criticised as not having an agenda, a la vonnegut, i felt the pictures of people, and their society, that it presented were no less powerful for not having headlines above them telling us what the author meant

in the end, for me, i found ‘the wife’ to be more enjoyable but i was amazed at the bravery of vonnegut. to talk about america in the terms he did, 40 years ago at the height of the vietnam war, is a great achievement.

vonnegut died recently, and there is a fascinating interview with famous author john irving, who was a friend of vonnegut. if you listen you’ll discover vonnegut was a v.interesting, kind of weird and funny, guy. he was obviously v.happy to be different which perhaps explains how he was able to take, what must have been a very unpopular stance in 60s america


September 25, 2007 at 12:08 pm Leave a comment


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