Cat’s Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut (Short Version)

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For those of you with better things to do than read an essay written by me, or you know, those of you who actually really want to read the book…

In true Vonnegut style this a pretty weird book. This was the first full length story I have read by him and unlike his shorter works which are fast paced and where every word counts, Cat’s Cradle is actually a fairly lengthy read where very little happens till near the end. That said, within the very little that happens, lots happens: with Vonnegut tackling issues of fate, religion and scientific exploration without messing it up with plot but with it still CONTRIBUTING to the plot, if that makes sense. Not sure it does.

Plot Synopsis:  The main character is a chap called John. He is writing a book about the scientist who invented the Atomic Bomb. He finds out lots of stuff about him and his family and meets some people. Briefly mentioned throughout is a discovery said scientist had of ‘Ice Nine’ sort of the scientific Midas touch – anything Ice Nine touches turns to ice. It does not exist. Only it DOES exist and is kept by this scientist’s kids. John goes to a Caribbean island called San Lorenzo, more stuff happens and the leader consumes some Ice Nine to commit suicide. A plane explosion casts the leader into the ocean, the ocean freezes – end of world. John survives with a few other people. The End.

This book would make a terrible film. The world ending through Ice Nine is a really cool idea, unfortunately most of the book is lead up, introducing characters that have little to do with the main plot but more to do with little sub-plots or who are there to represent stereotypes or ideas etc. The exciting bit only happens at the very end of the book, which is a shame, but I guess Vonnegut is more interested in social commentary than he is in writing an apocalyptic action novel. IF you wanted an apocalyptic action novel, what would have worked better is if the world ended through Ice Nine and THEN all the character development and discovery went on, with the world having ended all the while. Throw in a few fights and a bit more sex and you are set for a top-selling apocalypse movie. Hey, maybe I should write a script?

Anyway, more of the book is taken up with the concepts surrounding an obscure religion called Bokononism than with Ice Nine. Bokonon teaches that everything he says is lies, but that people need lies to function. He teaches that most of what we think is pointless, including national boundaries and social groupings and are invented by people, rather than God. God instead structures people into Karass – groups of people linked by one single purpose  – put in place to do God’s will. There is also another interesting idea in there that people can bond with one another by sitting with the souls of their feet pressed together. There is also lots of deep stuff about Latin America and Cuba and Castro and Communism and Dictatorships etc etc hidden within the depths of the book, but you need to be looking for it to really get it.

If you are a member of a book club, or are studying Communism, or American History/Politics/Literature or contemporary religion, religious issues, social issues etc READ THIS BOOK – it is very good and has lots to unpick. If you just want a good read about the world ending- maybe skip it…

Second Opinion: Paul

It’s well written enough, but Cat’s Cradle didn’t really do it for me. Not enough actually happened. A lot of the social/political stuff was over my head as I don’t know an awful lot about the cold war. And for a book labeled as “satire” there were precious few laughs. There were some, but the overall tone was just kinda flat. The two main issues/concepts in the book, Bokononisn and Ice9, never really tie together in any satisfying way but are interesting enough in their own right to hold your attention for the brief length of the book. The stuff on religion turning diseased, poverty stricken islanders into happy diseased, poverty stricken islanders is especially interesting. I didn’t hate Cat’s Cradle, but my enjoyment of reading it came mostly from a sense that all the ideas and characters being thrown at me would eventually lead to something. And it didn’t. Still readable though.

Oh, and one thing that really bugged me was the ridiculously short chapters: most are only a few paragraphs long! What’s the point? An author as capable as Vonnegut clearly is should be able to structure his writing by using the actual writing, not putting an arbitrary gap in every half a page.

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