Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller!

I've been wanting to read Catch-22 for years and years, long before I even started blogging, but I put it off. However, since one of my reading goals was to stop delaying, I figured Catch-22 was the place to start. It's been a year since I read it and I've finally collected my thoughts up into one handy blog post.



At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war.

His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he's committed to flying, he's trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he's sane and therefore, ineligible to be relieved.


It's been a long time since I've laughed out loud as I read. It so rarely happens that I found myself surprised! I listened to the audiobook read by Trevor White and he was a perfect narrator, but even after, when I wrote down all the quotes into my notebook- they all stood out without needing his fantastic narration. I ended up with five pages of quotes when the average book gets half a page!

The timeline does make it a little confusing, especially since I didn't know going in that it wasn't chronological. But it really is a very cleverly put together book. I always admire writers who try a non-linear timeline and it worked wonderfully with Catch-22. By the end, I just wanted to pick it right back up again and read knowing what I know now. I've managed to avoid this because I generally don't like re-reading, but the urge is so strong I'll be surprised if I don't within the next year.

For me, Catch-22 is a book of comparable situations. I see the current world reflected in Yossarian's', as terrifying a thought that may be. The contradictions, the absurdity and the lies. It's right there in our politics, on the news and on Twitter.

For example, the Illamasqua Anti-Fascism Pledge. That gives me an uncomfortable feeling, even though I'm obviously anti-fascist. And it stuck in my brain until I figured out what it reminded me of. In Catch-22, Captain Black has a Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade where he makes all his men sign loyalty oaths, many many loyalty oaths before they can get food or equipment. After all, people who are loyal "would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they have to." And really, Illamasqua wasn't asking you to do anything differently if you're not a fascist. So maybe that's the stickler, they weren't really doing anything. They told us what they believe, that we must agree with them or to not buy them. But that feels like a slippery slope...

"And this whole program is voluntary, Milo- don't forget that. The men don't need to sign Pitchard and Wren's loyalty oath if they don't want to. But we need them to starve to death if they don't. It's like Catch-22. Don't you get it? You're not against Catch-22, are you?"

Don't get me wrong though, this is not a perfect book. I struggle with the misogyny and recognising if the book is misogynistic or just the characters. This book hits a couple sore spots for me: female characters not given names, e.g. 'Nately's whore' and 'Nately's whore's sister', every female character being sexualised, and sexual assault is common. One story of rape is met with disgust, yet even the main character sexually assaults a woman.

Of course, it was written in the 1950's about the 1940's and we're not talking about hugely progressive times although there are books written at the same time that are. Plus, there were no female American pilots in WWII, although there was in other countries, so the main cast being men makes sense. Let's not forget Colonel Cathcart asking the Chaplain; "-you wouldn't want your sister to marry an enlisted man, would you?" And being told; "My sister is an enlisted man, sir... She's a master sergeant in the Marines."

And this rather interesting view, that I've pondered over: "It was a man's world, and she and everyone younger had every right to blame him and everyone older for every unnatural tragedy that befell them; just as she... was to blame for every man-made misery that landed on her kid sister and all other children behind her. Someone had to do something sometime. Every victim was a culprit, every culprit a victim, and somebody had to stand up sometime and break the lousy chain that was imperilling them all."

This review might've ended up being 99% quotes, but in the end, this book has changed the way I view the world. I finally understand Catch-22 for one thing! And any book that has a plan that looks like this and manages to stick with me for so long, is pretty dang good. I definitely need to re-read it. If you haven't already got a dusty copy waiting to be picked up like I did, you can pick one up here or I really recommend the audiobook.

"Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed-"


Have you read Catch-22? Are you planning to?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog design by aleelilydesigns