Sunday, 20 October 2013

Book Club: Catch 22

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It has been a while since I read Catch 22, and I really wanted it to be a book that I thought about after reading. In all honesty, it wasn’t. The book is well respected and much loved (especially by Lee, who was the one who persuaded me to read it) so I was expecting big things. My problem with the book is entirely my own; I found I’d read 500 pages about very little.

The book is set in the Second World War, in fictional American squadron based in Italy. The main character is Captain John Yossarian an air force bombardier, however in bounces in a non-chronological order from event to event as well as between characters. I enjoyed the opening chapters as they explored the concept of Catch 22; a double bind in which to be grounded you had to be insane, but by admitting insanity you were deemed sane enough to fly:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

Yossarian’s exploration of Catch-22 and the absurdity of the bureaucratic system are the major themes of the book; from an obsession with parading troops to a full blow food syndicate the characters have a spectrum of bizarre traits and experiences. Yossarian himself is scared of dying in the war, in the book he decides he is going to live forever, or die in the attempt. In doing so he spends days in the hospital, sabotages missions and even strips naked.

The characters in the book are wonderfully written; they have depth, personality and often made me laugh out loud. As you get sucked further into their world and tangled in the mess and politics of their roles you can’t help but feel something for them. The downside is that I often lost these feelings when I realised I had been reading pages of essentially a non-event told from 100 points of view. Now, I don’t want explosions or a cliff-hanger at every chance but I got a bit de-motivated in the middle of chapters. The end redeemed the book for me, the pace picked up and it got me thinking more and more, it was worth hanging in there for.

This problem is all my own. The book is widely regarded as a classic and a great work of the English language - I just don’t think it was for me.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Becca, WE ARE ALIKE. I read this last year as part of my degree.........and I HATED it, with a passion. I'm not sure whether I took in any of what I read at all (possibly because I am a keen speed reader and probably had about 2 days to read it in), but I just couldn't keep up! I liked the beginning as well with the stupidity of the insanity clause, but after that, I have actually no clue what happened. Everybody in my seminar naturally thought it was aaammmaaazing and could say loads about it, I on the other hand sat in the corner and kept schtum - just like always (; Glad to know somebody else just doesn't get it all either! (: xx

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