Monday, October 19, 2009

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

While reading a great selection by Padfoot and Prong's new online Good Books Club, I discovered yet another embarrassing fact in an unendable list of uninteresting facts about myself: I've never read Kurt Vonnegut. I can barely even spell his name. And I have just one word to say about that:


What a great book. In Mother Night Vonnegut makes fun of the landscape of war and peace, a social commentary of what makes us who we are and why. Are we truly what we seem or are we all masking our own indifference in a world we believe should only revolve around ourselves? We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

Howard Campbell Jr. is a great pretender. An American who became a notorious Nazi propagandist during WWII, Campbell is concerned about one thing: himself. A writer and one-time playwright (for no one is a better liar than a man who has warped lives and passions onto something as grotesquely artificial as a stage), recruited early on in the war by the American government to use his popular broadcasts to relay secret information to their operatives, Campbell is a spy in every sense of the word. He's a ghost of man. An empty shell. In his own words: a nationless person by inclination. Now twenty years later and a war criminal imprisoned for encouraging millions of Nazis in their crimes, Campbell is writing his own autobiographical play, his confession of sorts. In his dedication he calls himself a man who served evil too openly and good too secretly, the crime of his times.

Sounds serious right? It is, and darkly funny at the same time. Vonnegut, like Joseph Heller has a way of weaving the hardness and blackness of war and its aftermath, and making you laugh despite the circumstances. Who can do that I wonder, who can create a person who is both vile and sympathetic at the same time, a character I can't decide if I like or hate? A gifted storyteller can, and Vonnegut stands in league with those few that separate truth and fiction with great skill.

He concludes his introduction with yet another moral to this tale: When you're dead you're dead. And make love when you can. It's good for you.

Yesterday is not soon enough for me to read the rest of his books.
4 stars

Other great reviews:
Hamilcar from 5-squared
ELFay from This Book and I Could be Friends
25 Hour Books
Ooh.. Books!


hamilcar barca said...

glad you liked it! how'd the chatroom session go?

Lula O said...

It was great! Why didn't you participate? There were only five of us, but it went well. They brought up the discussion points mentioned on their blog. We talked about the ending, which threw me for a loop by the way, but was appropriate I thought. The Nation of Two, how her little sister pulled a fast one. It was a good discussion. The next book is Something Wicked This Way Comes.

hamilcar barca said...

my home PC is having issues. it doesn't like chatrooms, and Saturday it misplaced an external hard drive.

i read SWTWC about 10 years ago. it may even be gathering dust on one of my bookshelves. that's a good pick. i enjoyed it. a good book for Halloween.

Lula O said...

Oooo, I can't wait. I know there's a movie with that name. I wonder if it's the same story.

taraSG said...

Wow really great review!! I really loved the discussion :) Looking forward to next month!

Oh and thanks for linking to me :)


E. L. Fay said...

This was my first Vonnegut too, although I've been meaning to read Slaughterhouse-Five.

I love how you summed Campbell up: as a spy in the true sense of the word, an empty shell of a man, a ghost. I liked the black humor too. That's a pretty risky thing to do when dealing with such charged subjects, but Vonnegut pulls it off.

Lula O said...

Thanks for stopping by ladies! It was a great book. Really looking forward to the next one. And Slaughterhouse-five!

Laura's Reviews said...

I loved Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, but my husband didn't care for them. I really like Vonnegut's sense of humor. I haven't read Mother Night yet - I'll have to add that to my TBR list!

I have an award for you . . .

Lula O said...

Hey thanks Laura! I've been sick and flying under the radar this week. Not been been blogging much. I'll be commenting again soon, if my fingers don't fall off that is, from sickly disease..