An encouraging number of mainly Lower Sixth students joined one or two Upper Sixth stalwarts to discuss the opening choice for the Reading Group this year: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. This peculiar novel has been dividing opinion since its publication in 1969 and our discussion reflected this. There was some opinion that the bizarre mix of styles incorporated into the short novel was simply confusing: are we reading an anti-war polemic, a science fiction piece, autobiography, comedy…? Vonnegut’s idiosyncratic nonlinear narrative plays games with the reader’s expectations, and some in the reading group found this stimulating and challenging. Favourable comment was made on the veracity of Vonnegut’s account of events in the Battle of the Bulge and the bombing of Dresden, both of which he experienced, and his sympathetic portrayal of the anti-hero, Billy Pilgrim. Less laudable, it was felt, was his failure to present a realistic female character, the women in the novel being mainly one dimensional stereotypes.
The science fiction element of the story generated plenty of discussion. Billy Pilgrim’s Tralflamadorian adventures allow Vonnegut to introduce elements of philosophical discourse, inviting the reader to consider concepts such as free will and fate. Again, opinion in the group was split as to whether this brought an interesting dimension to the novel or was more of a distraction. Whilst not being a universally popular choice, Slaughterhouse 5 proved to be a stimulating and challenging opening novel.
The next selection is Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance.