Having first read this in the 60s I came to Catch 22 again as it was one of our reading group choices.
I had very positive memories of this book - but 45 years later how would I feel about it? Well, it is brilliant, iconic and groundbreaking. I can understand the impact it made on the literary scene all those years ago. But reading it now I found it - dare I say it - a trifle irritating. The humour and jokiness were just a bit too relentless and the circuitous dialogue a bit too repetitious. In many ways it is very much "of its time" inasmuch as the women are poorly represented.
However Yossarian remains one of the great fictional characters - mad as a hatter but at the same time absolutely sane. Catch 22 must rank among the best ever books about the futility of war. It is weird and wacky and is the ultimate black comedy about war.
on 13 February 2010
I found this book, through Amazon. I imagine it recommended it to me on the basis that I love `Trainspotting,' `A Clockwork Orange,' `The Catcher In The Rye,' `The Bell Jar,' `A Brave New World,' `To Kill A Mocking Bird' and `The Lord Of The Flies.' Through my love of 20th centaury classics, I persuaded myself to buy this book. Soon as I received it I dived right into the book.
The contrast between the breathtaking dialogue, tear jerking theatrics, laugh out loud comedy, un believable consequences, insanities euphoric state and humbling notions of this book simply leave you un able to find any sort of fault in it. A classic war story? Yes, but that's not all. It speak about humanity on a much, broader, wider and grimmer level than any event, war (OR BOOK ITSELF) should or could be able to and it does it fantastically. It's anti-hero climax and ability to laugh at itself is unique to its own. The book itself is like a deep breathe in. It's refreshing, elating and completely and utterly important for all of us to experience. I hate when it comes to this part of a review because you expect me to say something very `cliché' I'm sorely going to have to deprive you from that pleasure as this book is to `thought provoking' (there you go) to allow such horrors. If any one is reading over these reviews wondering if this book is worth their money- My answer is a simple yes. This book is humbling and most importantly extremely entertaining.
on 24 January 2005
People I know who have read Catch-22 have:
* Been unable to talk to me about it because they laugh when they're half way through telling me what it is they want to say
* Glorified it as funnier than any book, film, comedy series or stand up performance they've ever seen
* Said that they found it so annoying they had to throw it away
* Asked me what was happening after reading the first 100 pages
* Considered never reading again because they'd decided they'd never read anything better
* Had to leave the tube due to annoying the other passengers by laughing
Why do people love it? Because it is dark, surreal, immoral, subversive and hilarious. It gets away with it because Heller finds the perfect setting (a small island) in the perfect time (World War 2 - a dark, surreal, immoral time). But it all rings true because Heller was a WW2 airman himself.
Why do people hate it? I can only speculate. Maybe it's because there is no traditional plot-weaving. Maybe because the chronology is all over the place. Maybe because the main love-interest is a whore. Maybe because it relies on being absurd.
Its humour lies in words mainly so maybe people who don't find wordplay funny don't find Catch-22 funny.
Everyone should TRY and read this book. Even if you do cast it aside and lament a waste of a week's reading after 200 pages. If you love it you will really love it. I did and it's led to me writing an amazon review - and I've never done that before.
Just don't read the sequel.
Its taken me two attempts to read Catch 22, the first thwarted by the books odd structure based on characters rather than story and the authors initially difficult style. I've stuck with it, read it and am about to re-read it.
Yes this is funny, yes this is a great satire, yes this is deeply surreal, yes it is a direct descendant of Alice in Wonderland, Nineteen Eighty Four and an antecedant of Monty Python, Terry Pratchett and much comedy inbetween. Yes the writing is brilliant and Heller's pitch is artfully sustained across the entire novel. But these are only some of the reasons you should read this.
It is foolish to pigeon-hole this as a war novel- this is about the world, and the way the planet works NOW. Characters such as Milo, the ruthless entrepreneur, Cathcart the idiotically ambitious general, and Yossarian himself ring absolutely true. However, the battle sequences are utterly terrifying as they should be and the sense of loss at the death of a friend is shocking. However it is the sense of the war as huge organism which shuffles people around often without itself knowing why that, although it owes a great deal to Jaroslav Hašek, remains Catch 22's legacy.
This is a book you can live with and can keep you company for life. In dark psychological periods this can remind you that being at odds with an uncaring world is not neccessarily a hopeless thing. When feeling politically helpless, it can can remind you of how absurd, how unreasonable the planet actually is and how the human spirit can conquer.
And ultimately, the book is redemptive, it shows there are ways of escaping, and that the sanest people may well be the craziest (or is that the other way round?). This IS the great novel of the 21st century, as it describes a world when lunacy and illogic are the rules of the game- is this so out of place in a society where we spend more than we earn, where entertainment is looking at people like us, where freedom means removing liberty and education means idiocy?
on 18 September 2011
the book tells the tale of yossarian, a military pilot/bomber in the 2nd world war for the american army. yossarian is desperate to get out of the war - in order to do so he has to be certified insane, but if he's insane then he's absolutely fine to fight in the conflict - thus catch 22. the book tells of the absolute madness from the american army, sad tales of loss, the darkness that consumes the characters, the love between the troop - it's brilliant. definetely worth a read...
on 12 October 2013
I'd always been fascinated to read this book, whose reputation seems to have gone before it - & whose title of course has become indelibly embedded into our language.
It's a lengthy, experimental (for its time) & often extremely funny read - but you need an incredible amount of patience & indulgence to stay the course of this voluminous book.
It tells the story of Yossarian - a world-weary America fighter pilot stationed on an island off the coast of Italy during WW2, & centres on his brushes with authority & ways of coping with the thought that death could easily be around the corner any day... all the while as his superior, the cold & feckless Col Cathcart, forever increases the squadron's missions.
For what seemed like the whole of the first half, there appeared to be no plot at all - just chapter after chapter introducing a new & increasingly bizarre & baffling array of characters who just seem to get on each others nerves in an overlong series of set-pieces.
But, if you can get to the second half, the book levels out & a story of sorts does emerge, along with an underlying anti-war message that resonates towards the end.
I'm glad I've read this book (I think!) but I can't say I loved it - it obviously had a new & satirical edge when it was published in the early 1960s, but that now seems rather dated. Despite the piled-on humour, it isn't always as funny as it thinks it is either.
But, all in all, it's worth it if you can stay with it, & there are certainly echoes here of the claustrophobia & humour of M*A*S*H (& even Blackadder Goes Forth) to come perhaps. There are also some well-observed insights into the human condition, & into the insanity & futility of war itself.
on 20 November 1998
On the surface, Catch-22 is a fine novel about the U.S Army Air Force in Europe during the 1939-45 war. You do not have to scratch the surface hard to find a classic, timeless novel of the fine line between sanity and total madness. Is Yossarian, the 'hero', totally sane, or utterly, irredeemably insane? You tell me. Catch-22 is unique in its ability to thrust confusion, frustration, despair, insanity, death and plain old fashioned misery in waves - and yet repeatedly surprise you with its sidesplitting humour. When you laugh, you are not laughing at Heller's finely crafted characters, with all their idiosyncrasies, but at yourself, your friends and relatives. Because Heller's situations mirror the daily stupidities that we all put up with, laugh about and cry about. Reading Catch-22 is like sitting through the main feature a second time - you know exactly what will happen next; you know that nothing can change it. You cannot help hoping that it won't be so bad. But, of course, it's worse.
There I was, a youngish schoolboy fresh out of a stiff-assed Brit O level syllabus of Shakespeare, Milton and Pinter (heaven help me), and now at an American High School where what should be on their syllabus but Catch 22! To me it was almost as good as studying Penthouse magazine - that is to say it was a lot of fun. Catch 22 breaks all the rules. There's virtually no plot, it is an anti war novel written in a country whose principal industry and export seems to be war, the first 100 pages are not about anything in particular and the heroine is a whore. If you suspect that the whole military machine of whichever country you are reading this in, is up to no good, abusing your taxes, making the world a less safe place - or any one of the above - then you'll love Catch 22. Stand out characters for me are Milo Minderbender, Yossarian and Major Major. Plus another dozen or so who are all hilarious.
Try and read it somewhere private, 'cos you'll probably laugh out loud - your open plan office workstation or the Bakerloo line is a bad idea. And make sure you have plenty of spare time before you start - it is deceptively long for a novel in which very little happens in the first half, and not a lot in the second. MASH film and telly series' were ostensibly based on a book written by a doctor returning from the Korean War. But in tone, I feel that it is more closely based on Catch 22. At a slightly deeper level Catch 22 also describes the watershed between hope and the loss of hope in America. Under the laughs, what we are really looking at are glimpses of the world with, and without, war as an industrial fact of our daily lives. Perhaps that's why it was considered important enough to be on my American High School syllabus.
Joseph Heller’s 1961 war satire had always featured near the top of my all-time favourite novels, but having just re-read Catch-22 for maybe the 4th or 5th time (and the first time in over a decade) I feel as though I have only just discovered its true brilliance. That the novel was Heller’s first is all the more remarkable – particularly given the complexity inherent in his cast of 30 or so significant (plus many peripheral) characters – and it achieves a quite dazzling level of innovation in the way it melds what is (superficially) a relatively haphazard 'stream of consciousness’-like structure (albeit one that is perfectly suited to its subject matter) with its key themes of madness (predominantly), inhumanity, cynicism and duplicity. Of course, Heller uses exaggeration and parody to the nth degree – for me, coming across as a sort of 'the Marx brothers do The Naked And The Dead’ – but the fact that he delivers a novel that produces a 'laugh out loud’ moment every few pages and yet powerfully communicates the horrors and moving tragedy of war is, for me, undoubtedly Catch-22’s most enduring and original quality.
Of course, we’ll all have our favourite characters and moments. For me, the 'career obsessions’ of Colonels Cathcart and Korn vs. those of Generals Peckem and Dreedle are a particular comic highlight as is Heller’s theme of 'capitalism without morals’ as depicted by Milo Minderbinder and his evermore outlandish trading syndicate. And, equally brilliantly, Heller (repeatedly) brings us back down to earth with a bump with his running narrative of Yossarian nursing his colleague Snowden in the airplane hit by anti-aircraft fire – it’s as moving a piece of narrative as I’ve read anywhere. I think Heller’s novel is also 'uniquely literary’, as suggested by Anthony Burgess in his introduction to the version I have, where Burgess states (and I would agree) that, as with his own novel A Clockwork Orange, a film version of Heller’s satire is highly unlikely to be able to achieve a comparable effect to the written version.
on 23 June 2004
I recommend this novel as a magnificent satire on warfare and the human condition. Set in the Second World War in allied-conquered Italy, it contrives to be hilarious and tragic simultaneously. The hero of the novel, Yossarian, is an individual not afraid to declare his hatred for war and the novel is constructed around his many attempts to be allowed home. It demonstrates the pointlessness of war and the suffering of the pilots who flew bombing missions. It is, however, tremendously funny as each and every character is ridiculed. Heller satirises capitalism and commercialism through his entrepreneurial character Milo and this particular aspect of the book is incredibly funny in a gallows humour way. The novel is about madness, and the entrapment of everyone in the title of the work, Catch-22. One example of the many in the novel; Yossarian does not want to fly any more missions, but the only way he can get out of them is to be declared insane. Yet if he declares himself insane, the generals will know he is sane for wanting to get out of the missions in the first place, since only a mad person would want to fly the missions! It does not sensitively explore human relationships in warfare as Birdsong does but does well exhibit the weakness and selfishness of humans in times of adversity. War is not about comradeship, but survival of the fittest. Heller writes with incredible insight into the human condition, and his experience of serving as a bombardier in the war obviously has immensely influenced him. Although the context is the Second World War, what it has to say about the incompetence of leaders and the futility of war is relevant to any conflict. The novel is not particularly compassionate, is graphic, and does not refrain from heavy criticism of those who forced Yossarian into war and continued the conflict. Heller is to be applauded for such a controversial work since it was written not long after the war and first published in 1961. It is an anti-war novel like All Quiet on The Western Front but is much more like George Orwell's 1984 or Animal Farm in its satirical style. Much of his writing may outrage some readers, but if you want to read a satirical masterpiece set in a time of conflict, there is nothing better and if proof is needed of its popularity, it was voted well into Britain's top 21 books last year.