Sunday, 3 July 2011

Novel Review - Catch-22

Day 06: A book that makes you sad

This is part of a 30 day book review challnge thing. You can read my rather glib introduction here.


Meet one of my favourite books of all time everybody. Catch-22 is a book that needs little introduction, a modern classic really unlike anything else I've come across. It has a bold, mad premise: war is so nonsensical and tragic that it's funny. Is the laughter a catharctic attempt to reconcile the horrors, or a depressed cry for help? Is this a parody, a satire or just outright dispair in prose form?

Meet Yossarian, an American pilot stationed in Italy during the Second World War. He's surrounded by madmen, dangerous all of them, and for some reason everyone wants to kill him. With the few allies in the camp he's trying to find some way to get grounded, some way to stop flying. Theoretically, after a certain amount of flights pilots don't have to fly anymore, but the top brass keeps increasing the number to make themselves look good. There is another option: if a man is not healthy enough to fly, then he is to be grounded. Only, there's a catch.

The Catch-22 is an insiduous thing. Anyone who flies is insane, therefore obviously not fit for service; but those who want to get off are obviously sane, since no sane man wants to fly, and thus healthy enough to fly.

For me, the defining feature of this book is the double edge everything has, blanced between comedy and tragedy. The real lack of any stable, sane counterpoint contributes to this, painting a world which has lost sight of the value of anything. Where are the boundaries in this world? Are there any? Complimented by the narrative style that espouses conventional structure and style to a point where many are likely to be put off. If you can stomach it, do so.

The characters will break your heart. Almost every single one of them. There were times where I had to put the book down and stop reading. In retrospect, I can still feel gossebumps run up my arms when I remember scenes, moments, captured within those nigh unhinged text. The cartoonish unreality infects the characters as much as it effects the way the story is told. These characters all leave a mark.

Catch-22 is a story about madness like none other, in any medium. It's pretty difficult to capture in words, and not spoiling a lot of it is taking a hell o' a lot of restraint. If you've not read this one already, then this is your time: never has tragedy been so funny, and never has laughing been such an expression of sadness, for me at the very least.

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