Thursday, July 28, 2016

Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is one of those books I must have missed in high school or college - because there it's been, for all those years since, tempting me to take it on.

Well, now I have - and I'm better for it. I think. 

From the start, I found Catch surprisingly literary. By which I mean: for a novel that's attracted so much attention and praise, the experience of reading it was oddly challenging. The beginning of the novel, especially, lacked the scaffolding I'd expected. The narrative is frenetic and chaotic - perhaps deliberately so. The plot, too, is opaque, slow to materialize. The first one hundred pages of Catch are tough going, I thought: certainly tougher than I'd expected. 

But as death mounts, and as war progresses, that complexity recedes, and Yossarian's struggles become more poignant. This, I thought, was one of Heller's great achievements: that complexity gives way to clarity, and that as character after character is exited from the script, the script itself becomes serene. The chaos of Heller's early narration is transformed into its components; the universe is reduced to two elements: survival and absurdity. But for the first time in the book, we as readers fully understand these terms; we recognize that in our quest for the former, we must inevitably confront the latter.

Catch-22 is big hulking book: a book about war and sacrifice, but also about folly and irrationality. Yossarian ends the novel walking to Sweden. And after all: why not? Why not have Yossarian walk to Sweden? Heller seems to ask. "There's nothing negative about running away to save my life," proclaims Yossarian. In the twisted world of war, who's to contradict him? 

No comments:

Post a Comment