War is funny and tragic in equal measure in Heller’s deserved classic
With exams finishing and Summer beginning, I thought what better time than now to indulge myself in some reading, a much neglected hobby of mine. I used to read quite a lot when I was younger (SHOUT OUT TO ALL YOU DARREN SHAN FANS), and then I got a laptop. Reading was replaced with DVD watching. I’ve got an increasingly long list of books to read, now is the time to finally start checking them off.
Catch-22 is a satirical war novel following soldiers of a fictional US bombing squad situated on the Italian island of Pianosa during World War Two. Written by Joseph Heller in the 60’s, it encapsulates much of the anti-war attitudes which swept across the globe at the time. The clouded, unclear and non chronological nature of the timeline of the story is what really attracted me to the book. It certainly requires the reader to follow things more closely than usual. Particular events or pieces of dialogue don’t make complete sense until several chapters later. At times, this unorthodox narrative method is confusing but I think that’s completely intentional. We’re supposed to learn bits and pieces as if we were a character within the novel. And the confusion the reader may feel, is a clever reflection of the confusion the soldiers we learn about are also feeling. They’ve received training and are supposed to know exactly how to handle the horrific situations they find themselves in. Us, as readers, have received the necessary ‘training’ in order to digest a novel. Yet, no amount of training prepares a solider for a real battle. Thus, the confusion and shock. I assume Heller concluded that the best way to make the reader feel a degree of this surprise and oddity was to play with one of the fundamentals of writing, the timeline. It certainly works very effectively.
Content-wise, the novel is an elaborate mishmash of dark humor and sobering seriousness. The dialogue in particular really stood out to me. Wittily crafted and often of a laugh out loud quality. Repetition is a keystone of Heller’s writing here, which may frustrate some readers. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it. The novel is quite dense and for example, revisiting the same event on multiple occasions, each time from a different view point was certainly more intriguing than boring.
Catch-22’s place as one of the pillars of great satire is well deserved. At its core it is quite a simply a war story, a good one at that, but the way in which the story is expressed is what ultimately elevates Catch-22 to greatness.