Another erudite, entertaining article from Dorian Lynskey. I feel I’m being nudged ever closer to actually reading Vonnegut.
I liked Cat’s Cradle. Did not like Rosewater at all.
I can second that. “Player Piano” still has some great moments for me and I still reread “Slaughterhouse Five” every now and then. “Galápagos”, too.
I started from scratch with Harrison Bergeron, possibly recommended by someone here on Unherd. Good call.
I have only read Slaughterhouse Five. I was young and easily impressed, but might take another look.
Ditto. The link to Rushdie’s article is worth reading too. Though like this writer, Rushdie says:“So it goes” is not a way of accepting life but, rather, of facing death.”
And I find it rather ironic that such erudite writers don’t realise that accepting life is a means of facing death, certainly for me.
I’ve also been reflecting on the positive nature of the war experience for the Ukrainians and the discussion here and in Rushdie’s piece of Slaughterhouse 5 as an anti-war book. The reporting about the Ukrainians war experience seems to echo the experience of the British in WW2 when subject to the blitz and potential invasion – and, despite the sheer barbarity, there is a collective joy in surviving a mass existential threat (also similar to the soldiers in WW1 trenches), which in due course they may, like our own people, become very nostalgic about – “when they were at their best”. It makes me wonder if war is actually useful in providing an extreme experience, maybe bonding beyond the individual, that people really value. Maybe its even an essential experience that most of us in the West are no longer exposed to.
And I find it rather ironic that such erudite writers don’t realise that accepting life is a means of facing death, certainly for me. Bingo!
Try Cat’s Cradle, Player Piano and Slaughterhouse Five. If you don’t like him after that you never will. His books are short and incredibly easy to read so well worth the investment.
My favourite author. I just started reading Hocus Pocus again. Vonnegut’s characters are all flawed and complicated – of course he was too. One of my favourite lines, in defence of smoking, was that it was the only socially acceptable way of committing suicide.
And we don’t even get that as socially acceptable any longer…
fortunately we still (sic) have alcohol…
What’s wrong with suicide ideation and nihilism? With the state of the world today, its the only way to be.
The problem with people, one of Vonnegut’s characters said, was that they are about a thousand times dumber and meaner than they think they are.
Sententious projection , and probably meant to be understood as such
There is a well-hidden connection between Vonnegut and Salinger.
To write “Cat’s Cradle“, Vonnegut borrowed his Hoenikker characters from the Glass family. On closer examination, Angela, Franklin and Newt share the same attributes as Franny, Seymour and Zooey.
This discovery was made possible because John Irving, who was taught by Vonnegut, used the exact same cast in “The Hotel New Hampshire“, now calling them Franny, Frank and Lilly.
The funniest thing is that Salinger borrowed his characters from Greek mythology, the ultimate public domain source for all storytellers.
I posted a short 3-page story about this incredible investigation.
“The Dog Who Didn’t Speak Much”
Hope you enjoy reading it.
I loved Slaughterhouse 5 and poor old Kilgore Trout who was a forerunner to Kenny from South Park in that he died several times only to return in later books. Breakfast of Champions was another favourite, but I was 16-18 at the time.
Sirens of Titan with Winston Niles Rumfoord as a perceived demigod inspiring a foolish pointless war with the result everyone is equalized is practically where we are today. One of my favourite return to novels. With the CGI we have now it would be a blockbuster.
I forgot that! Must dig it out again. And “Mother Night”.
They don’t have to be a “good person,” but that is a decision the writer him/herself will have to make. That is, am I going to be a destructive selfish asshole who abuses and exploits the people around me and try to excuse it with some self-serving blather about “my art,” or am I going to be a decent human being who is also an artist?
We do have to sleep with our choices every night, regardless.
This is true but I try to avoid reading biographies of my favourite writers because they are nearly always insufferable pr**ks to everyone around them. Henry Miller comes to mind. As for Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle is excellent
I never knew anything about his private life or his personal vices and virtues. I just loved his books. In the early 1970s I binge-read everything he’d written. Every now and then an author comes along who immediately clicks with you. It doesn’t happen very often but, when it does, it’s a great feeling…
Like a lot of people, I read Vonnegut when I was much younger, but it was interesting to read this piece. I’ll be revisiting the BBC ‘Great Lives’ podcast tonight for a comparison (because I no longer trust a word they have to say). It’s here https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000d71c
” Captured at the Battle of the Bulge” does not begin to describe the events . Vonnegut’s division , the 106th, had been in the line for about ten days, with only bare minimum training and zero prior combat experience, when the world exploded around them. The Germans used searchlights to illuminate the fog and mist in an eerie half light and the Panzers rolled through the false dawn as Vonnegut’s division absolutely collapsed. Where Vonnegut himself was , I don’t know , but for the 106th there was no’battle’ , only panic , nay terror , and then surrender . My uncle was shot and captured that December 16 and the PTSD stayed with the rest of his life. Again , Vonnegut , I don’t know , but there was no ‘battle”
Of course Vonnegut had PTSD and of course that affects the whole personality ……amazing that he survived psychically at all!
“All my books are my effort… to make myself like life better than I do,” he once said.
I wonder if he didn’t get that the wrong way round. Perhaps his books were his effort to make life like him better than it did.
How important is it either way? Henry Ford was a famously unpleasant man, yet we’re all better off than if he hadn’t existed.
In fact he came up with one of my favourite ever quotes so here’s an excuse to repeat it: “If I’d bothered to ask what my customers wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”
I’m reading Andre Gide’s L’Immoraliste at the moment. I see Gide as the Gallic Nabokov.
Finally Kurt gets a brilliant critic.
Not that this has any relevance to the article, but has anyone else noticed the resemblance between Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Sutherland?
“Dresden, a beautiful, militarily insignificant city that did not expect to be bombed”
Whatever you say…
Which bit do you take issue with?
It was still significant transport hub for Germans.
Whether it was in Western Allies interest to help Russians at that stage of war is another question.
Still, Germany ended up with economic 4th Reich (sorry EU) instead of Morgentau plan.