Tag Archives: Surrealism

Slaughterhouse-Five

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-8-01-55-pmKurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
Vintage, London 2000

I thought Slaughterhouse-Five was a completely different book. I imagined that it would be a coming of age tale in a time of war, centered around five young lives and their discovery of a run-down slaughterhouse somewhere in Middle America. I imagined a scene where a dominant child takes to the emotional and even physical torture of another, whilst the others standby as onlookers. I imagined an allegory of war and of the wild and inhumane acts that people perform upon one another.

In many ways this picture is not wrong, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is not so different from my own. It is the story of horror and dread and inexplicable madness. It is also ominous for the greater part of the novel, a quality I saw inherent to my own fantasised version. However, it also tells of the circularity of life and the ever existing movement of life and death. I did not imagine my children of the slaughterhouse to engage so profoundly with the nonexistence of life in a universe where no one really dies: and so on… ad infinitum.

Billy’s idiot-savant approach to life recalls that of Dostoyevski’s Myshkin, and causes the story to unfurl in a manner similar to his unending stream of flashbacks and episodes of time and space travel. There is really no beginning to this story which starts by letting us know exactly how it will end, so that the ending never actually happens. It is as though with each step forward we take two steps back, further into the depths of Billy’s plundered mind.

I don’t know where I got the notion of another entirely different Slaughterhouse-Five, perhaps it was from a cover I had once seen, on which five small children could be seen dancing infront of a red barn. Often with a book of such renown and popularity, the contents are often obscured and influenced prior to any reading. This was certainly the case for myself, I couldn’t help but think of Billy as any one of my invented slaughterhouse children, at once tormentor and tormented. In such a way, it is certainly a book to add to The Brief History of Books that do not Exist

Omon Ra

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-12-37-02-pmOmon Ra
Victor Pelevin
New Directions Paperbook 851, USA, 1998
Translated by Andrew Bromfield 1994

Omon Ra was written by Russian author Victor Pelevin and tells the surreal history of “the heroes of the Soviet Cosmos“. Given to me by my good friend Jemima for my birthday it was clear from the very outset that she has a very good understanding of exactly the kind of literature which would grasp my attention. Russian, surreal, unclear and allegorical: Omon Ra is many things which I look for in a great book.

In addition to being comical, the book opens with the family history and childhood development of the young protagonist, fittingly called Omon. We are immediately invited into his family with a poignant discussion on the significance of his name. This intimacy remains with us for the rest of the story. Omon comes to life in ways which are not possible for the other characters. Often more archetypical than three dimensional, they are however only ever the more interesting because of it.

What happens is for each reader to figure out for themselves, however I had a strong sense of the duality of life and a greater appreciation for the possibility of parallel worlds living alongside each other in alternate realities. Pelevin draws significantly from the traditions of surreal renditions of the Soviet period, and as Omon plunges deeper and deeper into the fallacies set out in front of him the true monstrosity of this world is revealed. Pathos is the only word which feels at all fitting for an account of my sentiments at the conclusion of Omon’s story. Filled with uncertainty and a distinct sense of disappointment the ending is certainly an allegory of Soviet Russia.