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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 27 April 2017
Astonishing tour de force of despair really. It is about life and death at a very profound level, but written in such a simple way. The Dresden firestorm in WWII is described deadpan, and thus so much more effectively than with drama. The central character is Everyman, stuck in an impossible situation where he seems helpless to escape - and yet he does, either in a dream or in reality, when he is abducted by aliens. I would never call this science fiction. It is much more the study of one man's psychology, his escape and his denial of his reality, which ranges from utterly banal to absolute horror. Vonnegut himself seems to have been the most compassionate of men, and this sings through. I have to say, soon after I finished reading it, I saw a glorious pair of silver boots in a sale reduced from £120 to £7 and bought them, so influenced was my mind by Slaughterhouse Five.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 February 2015
Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a story about memory, time travel and the futility of war. The author was a prisoner of war in Dresden when it was fire bombed by the allied forces in 1945 killing 135,000 people and devastating the city. This experience is pivotal to the story. As its narrator he opines that, like Lot’s wife, we are not supposed to look back lest we be lost. His protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has come unstuck in time, travelling backwards and forwards through his life. What is recollection, memory, thought, if not a type of time travel?

‘We went to the New York World’s Fair, saw what the past had been like, […] saw what the future would be like, […]. And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.’

Billy Pilgrim considers time to be like space. In his view death is simply another moment, a feature on the path of a life. People will continue to exist if remembered.

‘We will all live forever no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be.’

The tale told is a collection of memories, a non linear life story. In many ways Billy would be considered ordinary: a son, husband, father, successful optometrist. In other ways he was extraordinary: prisoner of war, plane crash survivor, time traveller, alien abductee.

When he starts to share some of his more bizarre memories his daughter remonstrates with him, fearing that he is losing his mind. He asks, what is normal? Bookstores are filled with books about sex and murder; the news is of sport and death; people pay to look at pictures of others, like themselves but with no clothes on; they get excited about the price of things that do not exist called stocks and bonds. These things are accepted yet when someone tries to talk of what is not understood it is not believed, it is assumed that it cannot have happened.

At one point in the book Billy is watching a war film backwards.

‘American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off […]. Over France a few German fighter planes […] sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. […] a German city was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. […] everything and everybody as good as new. […] factories were operating night and day dismantling the cylinders […] so they would never hurt anybody ever again.’

War is accepted yet it kills and destroys.

The observations on attitudes are razor sharp. The story resounds with wit and wisdom as it challenges normality. Billy may have conflated fact and fiction at times but who is to judge what is real in anyone else’s life?

I loved this book. I fear that my review cannot do justice to the impact of the writing. I want to quote so much; better that you just go and read it for yourself.
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on 5 September 2013
Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of novel, became a sort of cult figure in American popular culture, and it's not difficult to see why. Slaughterhouse-five is a war novel with a twist. It rather cleverly, and in a deliberately obvious, self-conscious manner, disguises itself as a science-fiction piece about time travel and aliens. Framed by a narrator who is a war veteran, he embarks on writing an account of his experiences in WW2 when he was a POW in Dresden, Germany.

The novel that he writes turns out to be about Billy Pilgrim, a war vet like himself, but Dresden becomes just an episode within his narrative about his experiences as a time-traveller. The shift of focus suggests that the brutality of the war experience is too harsh and horrific to be addressed head-on and that it needs to be looked at sideways, mediated by a layered narrative.

Seemingly farcical, born-loser Billy is something of a joke in the army, and his position is non-combat and perfunctory. Death recurs in the novel, and as a way of cushioning the blow, the narrator always appends any mention of it with "and so it goes".

Vonnegut has a distinctive style of writing that is disjointed and episodic, which is filmic in quality, akin to the way a scene fades out to the next. Perhaps this style is also in keeping with the story of a man who becomes "unstuck in time" and begins to view life not as a continuum, and death not as an end, but rather as moments which, when chronology is taken away, causes the finality of circumstances to lose their significance, which also takes away the sting of hopeless events in one's life.

Humorous despite the gravity of the issues dealt with in the novel, Vonnegut manages to adopt an authorial perspective that is neither prescriptive nor heavy-handed, allowing him to speak truthfully about the pain of human suffering without the melodrama.
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on 17 March 2017
I thought I would give this a go as it was reduced recently but I am really struggling to get into it. Im up to chapter four but its been hard going rather than a book that you cant wait to pick up again. I guess its just is not for me. I find it slightly bizzarre.
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on 12 April 2017
This book was an absolute joy to read despite it's at times quite difficult subject matter.
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on 11 August 2015
The book which made me realise how special Kurt Vonnegut was. I have read it twice and it still amazes me. There are some incredible lines. Deep themes. Powerful descriptions of tragedies. All with Vonnegut's trademark humorous undertone. How I wish I could write like this man.
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on 12 May 2016
As a new avid reader, having this book recommended by an English teacher was a true joy to read. This book handles time travel very well, coming into this book I was expecting it to be hard to follow, but truly it felt perfect. The humor is exceptional and a must read.
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on 3 May 2017
Read this for my book group. Probably one of the oddest I've read. Looking forward to hearing what others thought....
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on 10 June 2017
interesting book
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on 15 March 2017
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