A few years ago now I read Slaughterhouse 5 and I absolutely loved it. That isn’t an original opinion, I know, but it is a great book. Read it! Since then, I’ve been meaning to try out more Vonnegut and I started with Cat’s Cradle.
This is an odd, short book. The chapters are very short, fragmented, and there is no traditional sense of narrative or character development. There is a story though; you just have to wait a little longer than usual to find it. This led to an odd reading experience. For the first third of the book, I was wondering what on earth the book was going to be about. Eventually the narrative became clear, and I very much wanted to know how it ended (although I’m still not entirely sure why I was so interested).
This is a risky form of story telling. It was brave and certainly a style that Vonnegut enjoyed playing with. I find it exciting to read a story with a very distinctive style, but I can see how it might be a vegemite/marmite issue: you either like it or you don’t. I liked it, despite the flaws.
What I found to be the biggest issue with Vonnegut’s story telling in Cat’s Cradle was that there was very little character development and growth. You don’t feel the narrator learns anything about himself in the span of the book, apart from perhaps welcoming a new religion (but this is inevitable and given away at the beginning). None of the peripheral characters are developed beyond a very shallow, cursory glance. I didn’t find that I wanted one particular thing to happen over another – I just wanted to see what Vonnegut had chosen. And most of the time it felt like he might have put ideas in a hat and pulled them out at random.
The book is very funny, with some great commentary on life, politics, and religion. But that is all it does feel like at times. It was a very different approach to the novel, and the book was enjoyable, but I do think it had issues.
Verdict: Read it.