Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut clocks in at 157 pages and yet is one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking books I have ever read. It tells the story of Billy Pilgrim a World War II veteran and UFO abductee. He is a prisoner of war and survives the bombing of Dresden that claimed the lives of 135,000 people. Later in his life he is taken by aliens and exhibited in a zoo on their home planet of Tralfamadore.
These events and those in-between are presented to us in a disjointed manner which is a reflection of the way Pilgrim is untethered in time. He travels through time almost at random to find himself at various stages of his life and relates the events to the reader. In some ways this uncontrolled jumping may have been a reference point for Audrey Niffenegger when she wrote The Time Traveller’s Wife although Pilgrim only ever jumps through time into the single consciousness of his own body as opposed to his whole body moving around in time.
Vonnegut’s style is easy to read, witty and most of all highly humorous despite the heavy subjects under scrutiny; the main theme being anti-war. His repetition of the phrase ‘So it goes’ whenever death is mentioned is most amusing and his use of interconnected character and subplots in such a small book is admirable.
Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo is somewhat different beast containing 209 pages heavy with poetic prose focused on one day in the life of a multi-billionaire Eric Packer. DeLillo’s prose is far removed from the accessibility of Vonnegut’s writing despite the linearity of the story telling and at times left me pondering whether the writer was more concerned over the cadence of his writing than the story.
The story itself is a relatively simple one – rich detestable self-absorbed egotistical wank-bag Packer drives through New York in his stretch limo on his way to get a haircut. Along the way he observes a variety of scenes and meets some of his minions. What makes the book interesting is the implosion of Packers ego as the stuttering journey reaches a pre-ordained conclusion – which is spelt out early in the book from the point of the view of a disgruntled ex-employee. Packer gambles more and more on an unpredictable currency deal involving the Japanese Yen to the point where he will bankrupt himself and his new wife (who he hardly knows) and destabilise the global economy, and yet he is more intent on trying to have sex with any woman he fancies and defeating his mortality.
There are some mentions of precognitive hallucinations which are never clearly explained and a rather flat ending to the tale. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I will be interested to see what the screenwriters will choose to keep in the story and how they handle the ending. I think the main issue I had with this story is that I had no sympathy whatsoever for the main character and so I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the things that happen to him.