Customer Review

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, But Is It Funny?, 26 April 2009
This review is from: Catch-22 (Paperback)
Frustrating, shambolic, repetitive, bloated. But also moving, shocking, hypnotic, humane. Ok so much for my opinion. But is it funny?

I've read this twice, once in my impressionable late teens and again recently as a sceptical "grown up". I found exactly the same parts funny the second time round, which might indicate that there's less substance to this book than many claim. The chaotic rants between the variously insane US Air Force officers, during court-martials, pre-flight briefings, and debauched R&R, are genuinely superb. The warped logic of the entire book is repeatedly and hilariously encapsulated from different perspectives in each episode, whether it be over an allegedly stolen plum tomato or the ethics of war.

However, the book also frustrated me in just the same ways as before. The self-indulgent repetition, numerous loose ends, wanton disjointedness of narrative, and (I think) a very weak ending haven't endeared themselves over time. Be prepared to despair of the book at times.

I'm still as impressed as ever with the darker side: the casual murder of a prostitute, a pilot sliced in two by a propeller following a practical joke, the fate of a soldier covered head to foot in plaster and repeatedly fed his own waste products, all delivered in a deadpan tone. For me, these moments are what mark Catch-22 as an important and moral work. I think this is in the first instance a serious and ethical book, and only secondarily a comedy.

So is it funny? Yes, but be prepared to remain relatively poker-faced for long stretches. Is it a masterpiece? I don't think so: it has too many stylistic gimmicks, and looks like a one-off success rather than the work of an author who was still finding his true voice. None of Heller's subsequent work emulated this level of fame.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Nov 2010 21:16:34 GMT
M. G. Bell says:
Good review, but some spoilers in there!

Posted on 17 Mar 2013 19:16:57 GMT
An excellent review which sums up my feelings entirely. The book is very funny at times and cleverly constructed, but also repetitive, irritating and contradictory. But it does seem to be standing the test of time, at least on the basis of many reviewers' comments.
It is a shame that Heller never wrote another book that achieved the success of this one. In fact I find his later work well nigh unreadable now.
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