Slaughterhouse Five is a wonderful blending of satire, science fiction and war. Its author, Kurt Vonnegut, appears as the intrusive narrator to a story that says a lot about the effects of Second World War – particularly on its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim – without many explicit words at all. Vonnegut apologises within the first chapter for a short fiction that is ‘so short and jumbled and jangled’, but this nature of fiction is the very thing that makes it so enjoyable to read. The language throughout the story is as simplistic as its protagonist. Any expected imagery of a gory war, Nazis, and death are diminished throughout the story. Slaughterhouse Five is wonderfully humbling, highlighting all of the things we will never understand about life, time or war in one short and repeated phrase – ‘so it goes’.
Despite believing that he has been abducted by aliens, procreated with a porn star, returned to earth and can time travel, Billy Pilgrim’s life is far from disjointed. All events on Earth are linked to one another through windows of time. Time features ironically throughout the book, providing events with a linking structure, despite the narrative being non-chronological. As someone with a phobia of ticking clocks and having a woman trapped in an hourglass tattooed on my leg, I’ve always been attracted to, disgusted by and compelled by different concepts of time. The philosophy of Time, provided by the extra-terrestrials within the story really resonated with me.
It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
It’s not surprising that other characters perceive Billy as brain dead or crazy. Billy Pilgrim was a fatalist American soldier. He cared little for his life and took no enjoyment or glory from the Second World War. He lived many moments which he returns to and from throughout the story, but the central and connecting event of the novel – although never described in great detail – is the bombing of Dresden, which takes place while Billy Pilgrim resides in the address, Slaughter-house Five.
Loss, love, perplexity and pain are all scattered amongst the pages of Slaughterhouse Five. I was simply a shadow jumping through time and events that impacted the succeeding moments of Billy Pilgrim’s life. Without being too forceful, Kurt Vonnegut has created a harrowing story that echoes within my own life – as it will yours. Unlike Billy Pilgrim, we might not be soldiers that have fought in a war and we may not (probably definitely not) have been abducted by aliens. But just like Billy we all fight our own battles and we all have a story to tell. We revisit moments and hold on to them tightly, particularly the moments in which ‘everything was beautiful and nothing hurt’.