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on 19 July 2014
I think that this novel appears fragmented because there are a lot of different characters who when interviewed help to form a picture of the scientist Felix Hoenikker. In relation to the Bokonon religion and all the quotes and poems, it's almost like nonsense poetry, making little sense in places. In this sense it is very Modernist, to see the truth within the chaos.

It is an interesting start to the book where the narrator asks us to call him Jonah. Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh, to warn the people of the impending doom. As a prophet he had a certain authority and responsibility, but he was wilful and disobedient and went in the opposite direction. Is the narrator here to point out our own destructive tendencies and that if we don't reform, it will lead to our own destruction, certainly his book, The End of the World would suggest this. However the book makes it point with a large degree of humour. "When I was a younger man - two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quartz of booze ago .." The modern vices, common to all humanity, who make mistakes. He talks about humanity being divided into teams, a karas, who do God's will without ever knowing what they are doing. So much for the illusion of free will. "If you find your life tangled up with someone else's life for no very logical reason, that person may be a member of your karas." The most farcical example of this is Mrs Crosby, formerly Hoosier. She proceeds to tell the narrator that Hoosiers are in charge of everything, as if it is a prestigious name, akin to Kennedy or Rockefeller.

The narrators search is for Felix Hoenikker and all of the people he meets along the way tell him something about the man and his creation, Ice-9. Starting with his children who appear to have been secondary to his work and after his death seek to exploit his creation for their own gain. I do find the issue of Newt and Zinka's height a little disturbing. In today's PC world the 'm' word wouldn't be used as it's grossly offensive. Why the author chooses to use it is a bit of a mystery. Mrs Crosby will later introduce the narrator to Newt and Angela as fellow Hoosiers. "Angela persisted in treating Newt like an infant - and he forgave her for it with amiable grace I would have thought impossible for one so small." He also describes her as, "a God-awfully insensitive woman, with no feeling for what smallness meant to Newt." I don't think the writer/narrator does either and that's the funny part, as he thinks his attitude is better.

It is Newt who gives an insight into the title - Cat's Cradle, being a child's game. His father had no time for games, or his children it seems, but the string of a cat's cradle obviously reminded him of something in his childhood. The idea of the small cradle holding a cat is absurd and relies heavily on the imagination. Equally the nursery rhyme and physical description of his father makes the whole incident macabre.

It's interesting that the place where Dr Breed works is called Ilium his secretary is Miss Faust. We learn that Dr Breed sees the place as a wholesome family town, yet the narrator has been discussing Hoenikker and getting drunk with an old classmate, who was a prostitute, the night before. This makes one wonder what other secrets there are, beneath the topless towers of Ilium, as Marlow would say. For Dr Breed, "New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have .. the richer we become." For Bolononists this is funny, presumably because truth is illusory.

"Ice-nine was the last gift Felix Hoenikker created for mankind before going to his just reward." This is a little tongue in cheek as he has created something which could destroy the earth. Something to stop marines sinking into the mud, will now kill mankind. Idea of just reward could mean praise or punishment depending on your viewpoint.

Marvin Breed is Dr Breeds brother and runs the funeral parlour. It is through this interview that we learn that Hoenikker never put a headstone on his wife's grave. It is the children who use his Nobel Prize money to buy the large headstone and decorate it with their words. The narrator comments on the fact that it is a small word and Marvin replies, "When you put it in a cemetery it is."
"San Lorenzo .. A healthy, happy, progressive, freedom loving, beautiful nation makes itself extremely attractive to American investors and tourists alike." This is the mantra of the island, prosperity and investment. The idea that they will say anything, to gain the investment needed to move forward within a capitalist system. It's a universal truth that's never spoken and to see it in writing makes it funny.

Crosby is an entrepreneur making bicycles, but complains that they have to spend time trying to make everyone happy, no one can be fired, and if they make anything the government accuses them of inhumane practices. He says of San Lorenzo, "The people down there are poor enough ans scared enough and ignorant enough to have some common sense!" In other words they can be exploited, this is the tragedy. He goes on to explain later in the novel, "A pissant is somebody who thinks he's so damn smart, he never can keep his mouth shut." This just about sums up the speaker. The way he criticises and complains about Philip Castle, who shows him no deference, is also a satirical portrait of the way Americans behave abroad.

When they get to San Lorenzo we find the National Anthem is sung to the tune of Home on the Range, a place where the living is grand. Julian Castle, founder of the medical centre, the House of Hope and Mercy and father of Philip, explains that Bokonon created a religion after the priests had been expelled. "Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies." There is the idea that the religious practice of the joining of feet brings an intimacy and closeness between individuals. When the narrator is invited to be the next President of San Lorenzo and marry Mona she invites him to take off his shoes and he is nervous. As he takes off his shoes and socks the laces knot, he rips his thumb nail and finally drags the shoe off without undoing the laces. After he tells her that she can not perform this act with anyone else this distresses her, as she feels love should be shared with everyone. Yet when they finally make love, she is repulsed by the act and says it would be sad to bring a baby into the world at that time.

'Papa' who is terminally ill takes the ice-9 in a suicide attempt and dies. They then have the problem of disposing of the evidence and the body. In the ceremony to celebrate the 100 Martyrs, a plane crashes into the foundations of the castle and the structure breaks up and falls into the sea. As the castle disintegrates the bed with papa's body falls into the sea and it is frozen solid. The ensuing crisis kills most of the people and the narrator and Mona emerge from their safe haven, the world is a dangerous place where death is not far away. The last words are given to Bokonon, who says if he had a choice, his final act would be to climb mount McCabe, lie down and take the ice-9, whilst thumbing his nose disrespectfully at God.
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on 18 August 2007
This is the second book of Vonnegut I've read, the first one being Vonnegut's best know novel, "Slaughterhouse 5". If it was not for "Slaughterhouse 5" I would take "A cat's cradle" as a very imaginative, weird and funny book, but probably not one that keeps me thinking for some time once finished. The tone is just too light and the story too improbable to be taken otherwise. But this is highly deceptive and once you realise that Vonnegut's war experience in Dresden has been central to his vision of life, this book appears not just as light entertainment but as a more profound reflection on the meaning of life (pretty meaningless in the author's view I gather) and, incidentally, on the role of religion and the power science gives to some very irresponsible and unbalanced people (this book was written during the cold war and the possibility of the world being completely wiped out by nuclear war was then seen as very real).

The message may be too pessimistic to make the novel completely enjoyable but it makes for an interesting and very funny read until someone presses the wrong the button.
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on 3 September 2012
Well, that was great fun.
I first read Cat's Cradle as a 16 year old in 1973. I loved it as much as anything I had read up to that point. I re-read it very recently and tried as hard as I could to avoid the rosy glow of nostalgia colouring my impressions.
I hope I succeeded; in any case I found myself shaking my head every few seconds in wonder at the humour, the ideas and the sheer intelligence on display. I think I probably got more out of the book almost 40 years on than I did at the age of 16, but the fact that a novel, essentially of ideas rather than storyline, left such an indelible impression on my adolescent mind is pretty remarkable. I think Vonnegut is held in even greater esteem today than during his lifetime and the predictions of him going the way of Mark Twain in terms of reputation don't seem too fanciful.
So, it was a great re-connection for me and a re-discovery of something dear; then the real fun began when I read the reviews here on Amazon.
Fighting the temptation to slip into `defensive fanboy' mode I still find the content of the negative reviews published here fascinating and provocative. There seem to be a few consistent criticisms;
* The novel and it's themes are `dated' and no longer relevant
* The characters are unbelievable or `unappealing'
* The plot is weak
* There is no central point to the novel
So, is the novel `dated'? Well, it was published in 1973, so by some standards it's bound to be dated - it is nearly 50 years old and our world today is different technologically, politically and environmentally. Given all of that I'm personally astonished at how well it has aged. Yes, we are no longer preoccupied by the Cold War, but with events in Iran how safe do we really feel from the threat of nuclear war? With the rise of militant fundamentalism how less relevant are issues of religion, lies and morality? With global warming how less relevant are the themes of man-made environmental catastrophe and the impact of technology for good and evil? It seems to me that Mr Vonnegut's themes are astonishingly universal and prescient.
The characters in Cat's Cradle are certainly a grotesque and flawed bunch. They don't set out to remind you of your friends and acquaintances or evoke sympathy or empathy. I would challenge anyone, however, not to warm to the character of that old scoundrel Lionel Boyd Johnson (unless his religion offends thee, in which case it's just possible you may have missed the point). Being stupid, careless and thoughtless, of course, doesn't make a character unappealing, merely human.
The plot certainly doesn't attempt to rival Harold Robbins or even Stephen King. No surprise, though, that Mr. K is a big fan of Mr. V. It's actually, I think, a tight little plot which is more than just a series of hooks for the snowstorm of ideas and invention, but if your taste runs to pot-boilers you will have to look elsewhere.
There's no central point to the novel, that's true - but largely because there are more central points as a proportion of words written than in any other novel this side of James Joyce. Personally I find the cat's cradle of ideas about science, religion, family, nationalism and crass but very human stupidity way more exciting than a single central point.
So, am I a misty-eyed fanboy or a detached critic? Bit of both perhaps. Is Cat's Cradle a great American Novel or a dated piece of barely-structured, artsy, baby-boomer sci-fi? I'm going to have to go with the former. Will it still provoke debate and divide opinion in another 50 years' time? I can only hope so. Will the world finally see sense and abandon all religions in favour of Bokononism? What a wonderful world that would be.
Busy, busy, busy.
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on 8 May 2014
This novel turned me from being a Slaughterhouse 5 fan into a Vonnegut fan. It's a crystalline gem of irony and pessimistic fatalism but, unlike later works where he had become truly despondent, there is a lifeline of humanist optimism in the most magnificent part of the book — the invented religion of Bokononism.
Like a previous reviewer, I find criticisms that the book is dated or far-fetched to be odd. The book most certainly is not dated: the Cold War may be over, but man has not stopped his quest for the most efficient technological route to total annihilation. To me it's got a fairly universal theme (one similar to Dr Strangelove, which the book very much resembles in its savagely ironic tone): that technological destruction is ultimately wielded by individuals, and that individuals are far too often weak and idiotic to be entrusted with such power.
If you only read one Vonnegut book, make it this one. And then, if you have any sense, become a Bokononist too.
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VINE VOICEon 13 December 2014
I'm new to Kurt Vonnegut, having read Slaughterhouse 5 a few years ago and loved it but not really having the urge to read anything else of his at the time. A late night dinner party conversation recently led me back to KV and opinion seemed to be that's Cats Cradle would be a good place to continue my KV reading.
As expected, this book plays with the mind from the very beginning - what is truth and what is a lie? Can religion be founded on lies? Who holds the power to end the world? KV opens up his head to the reader through the narrator, Jonah, presenting his ideas and then questioning them in a way which makes you question yourself.
Reading the book feels as if you are there with Jonah, experiencing his amazement and revelations as he mets all the bizarre characters and uncovers their stories.
Structurally, the book is just over 200 pages long and split into 127 chapters. This helps makes the novel a very accessible read. The style of writing is very straightforward with lots going on below the surface.
There are many different levels on which this book can be read and I suspect that everyone will find different ideas in here, many of which the author did not intend at all (this would delight KV I am sure!)
And then there's the plot....... The imagination of the author is amazing. He creates countries, religions and scientific theories during the course of the story and they work wonderfully for most of the book. I felt though that he overused some of the ideas and the ending was dragged out further than it needed.
I'm not sure I'll jump at the idea of reading another of his but I did enjoy the experience.
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on 29 September 2014
The copy I received was virtually in mint condition. Hard to imagine anyone had ever read it.
Which is a pity, given Vonnegut brilliantly depicts a world by turns immensely funny and
sad. Everybody should know about Bokonism, a fatalistic religion. To my mind, Cat’s
Cradle is a work of genius that everyone should be required to read; funny but frightening.
The work of an extremely witty and wise man.
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on 29 July 2014
I read Slaughterhouse 5 after the author featured heavily in another book I read, enjoyed it immensely, and have now read this one. This came before Slaughterhouse 5, but the author's background, world view, and the politics of the time all show through the slightly bizarre and strange story line. It's compulsive reading, and thought provoking, even after the 'end' of the cold war. The advance of science, which is a strong part of the background to the book, is of particular interest, touching on the motives, desires, and ethics of all those involved. The book is also both kind and damning of religion. In my late 40's now, I'm disappointed I'd not come across the author before, but heartened that I now have, and this was another brilliant book, making me want to read more of his, and also to understand more about him and his history.
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on 23 November 1998
It's full of comic gems and cynicism. Things like the touching of feet. The islanders pronouncing Johnson as Bokonon. That he bans the religion to try to drum up interest. The way he compares himself with some head of an arms complex, (I forget exactly but something like) he looked clean and polished, I felt prickly and diseased. Worth reading for that. I read it 10 years ago and haven't seen it since, but I remember it like a favourite pop song. Buy it.
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on 19 July 2014
An eminent scientist, his strange children, a new religion openly founded on the premise that fantasy is more desirable than truth; an estranged impoverished island community; a self appointed dictator and a writer following his story, all come together in this surreal tale. For me it's about man's ingenious capacity for destruction on a grand scale and willingness to believe and adopt ideologies and theologies even when they are diametrically opposed to reality. It's all about the ideas and the satire packaged in a very palatable SF allegorical format.
But is it funny? Yes, of course it is! It isn't my favourite KV but I have, did and will continue to enjoy it.
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on 2 July 2005
The first time I read this book I thought it was good, six years on I read it again and thought it was great, another six years and I've just finished it again and think it may be the greatest book I've ever read.
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