Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“He has a habit of repeating himself. So it goes”

Overview: Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

This book is oddly engaging, unpredictable and just plain weird. This type of work can not be copied because it so utterly original.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, I had never read Vonnegut before and didn't know what this book would be like. Vonnegut does an excellent job mixing history with war criticism and science fiction. It seemed to me an unlikely combination, which is probably why this book is so peculiar.

The premise is simple: we follow the non-linear narrative as told by Billy Pilgrim, sandwiched between the author-narrator’s opening and closing chapters – so from that perspective, it makes for an unexpectedly different read if you’re used to going from A to Z.

The circumstances surrounding the bombing of Dresden during World War II are central to the story, not only the author-narrator’s fascination with it, but also the role it plays in Billy’s life. What I liked about Billy’s narrative is that we’re never sure whether his alien abduction and apparent time-traveling has any basis in reality, and I’m quite a fan of this sort of ambiguity. 

Vonnegut also put himself, along with his characters, into the story, which is weird since Martin Amis did the same thing in his book Money, which I just finished.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

“Japanese love on a fishing island never seemed so interesting”

Let me start by saying that reading so many stories about Japanese teenagers in love wasn’t planned, it just sort of happened. Also, this was the book I picked up after I had to put down “The Coup” by Updike after 80 pages. 

So, let’s jump right into it. Mishima was crazy. He formed an unarmed civilian militia for the avowed purpose of defending the Japanese emperor in the event of a revolution by Japanese communists. On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of his militia entered a military base in central Tokyo, took the commandant hostage, and tried to persuade the soldiers at the base to join them in supporting the emperor and overturning Japan's pacifist Constitution. When this was unsuccessful, Mishima committed suicide by seppuku at the age of 45.

Overview: Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. A young fisherman is entranced at the sight of the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. They fall in love, but must then endure the calumny and gossip of the villagers.

The Sound of Waves was published in 1954 and is a coming-of-age story about Shinji and his romance with Hatsue, the beautiful daughter of the wealthy ship owner Terukichi. The story has been adapted for film five times.

I really enjoyed the story, probably because the writing was characterized by its luxurious vocabulary and decadent metaphors, its fusion of traditional Japanese and modern Western literary styles, and its obsessive assertions of the unity of beauty, eroticism and death. The ending was strong, and for lack of a better word, fulfilling, much like the way Mishima described the setting of the beautiful island on which the majority of the story takes place.

The Gilt Kid by James Curtis

The Gilt Kid by James Curtis

“Even native English speakers might struggle to read this book”

The Gilt Kid by James Curtis is a crime thriller set in 1930s London that deals with working-class themes in a Social realism style. 

Written in 1936 - and containing a cast of criminals, dossers, prostitutes and down-and-outs - this is an incredibly vivid and authentic evocation of a side of London seldom depicted in fiction during this era. 

This was a really interesting book and I was forewarned by my English friend that there would be a lot of English slang and he was not wrong. 

Among the many 1930 British slangs include these gems:

  • “Irish janes were good to fellows on the bum and to the boys on the gagging lark.”

  • “And the worst of kips was better than being properly on the ribs”

  • “You berk. You gone and dropped the bloody glim.”

The book did a good job of painting the scenery and the emotions that the main character felt when committing a crime or facing the judge in court. It was almost like you were right there with him. Also, you don't need to be fascinated about London in the 1930s to get something from this book. The ending was nice, almost coming full circle but not quite, which now doesn’t make sense, but after you finish it, I’m sure you’ll be inclined to agree. 

Something that stood out in the book was the way in which the author highlighted the food and drink of the time. The main character is often in pubs, ordering food, and drinking dark, thick, foamy ale. 

For a debut novel, Curtis killed it and I look forward to reading more of his other works, especially now that I’ve brushed up on my British slang.