I couldn’t agree with the sentiment of the quote above more, especially given the current state of the world. That we have been flirting with World War III and nuclear or biological annihilation, makes me feel my years of muttering under my breath that most of the human race are idiots weren’t wasted. Anyway, back to the book.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is set in Italy during World War II. The book follows bombardier Yossarian, as he attempts to live forever or die trying. There are the forces of the other army out to get him, of course, but then there is also his own side. Perpetually increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service, Yossarian seems doomed to have to keep flying because of this, and because of Catch-22. According to this kafkaesque bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
I love this premise and I don’t think I could have been reading a more appropriate book when things started kicking off in Ukraine. A very accurate depiction of human nature on many fronts, as well as modern warfare as I understand it. All the characters are insane, yet convinced they’re the only sane one. Much of what is happening is surreal and disjointed, but in a way that worked for me. I laughed out loud on average about once every ten minutes while reading. But there are parts that are fucking dark and darkly fucked.
This may be the most gloriously cynical book I have ever read. I wanted to give it a 5/5 but it’s just too real at points, jarringly swinging from head screwingly surreal comedy to gore and horror and back again. I get that life is like this, that war is like this, but for fiction we need suspension of disbelief, and I was so thrown out of the narrative by jarring bits at points I had to put the book down, go away and do something else for a while.
Also, if you can’t handle the “male gaze”, this book is seriously not for you. It is utterly sexist. The female characters are, in the main, merely sex objects who are sexualised and brutalised. Some of the male characters are nicer about it than others, but they’re all pretty much showing us the worst of how men are with women, even when they’re trying to be good. Again, a bit too jarringly real, but I would hope that most male readers would find it that way too. At the same time though, the way that the women are depicted is jarringly unreal. It seems clear the author has a. never met a woman of any substance b. doesn’t like writing about them c. thinks all woman are bimbos or d. all of the above. Every single one of them seemed to just be there to screw around and there was little more to them than that. The author effortlessly depicts various shades of male character, yet seems completely incapable of writing a single female with any personality beyond which man she is shagging or wants to shag her. Either the author was trying to say something about how men see women, or he was telling us how he sees women. The fact I’m not sure has me thinking it’s a little of both. 4/5