Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (mid read review)

I have a confession. The eagle-eyed of you will have spotted this tome in my holiday reading pile from like a month back. I picked up Catch 22 while I was away… and put it down again after about a chapter.

I’ve been trying to finish it ever since!

This is one of those ‘classics’ which is lauded almost universally, and which has entered common parlance. Everyone knows what a Catch 22 situation is, whether or not they’ve ever read the book (especially if they’ve ever tried to get an entry level job…!). So, as part of my self-assigned mission to get more ‘worthy’ reading into my repertoire (and because I have found some truly amazing and well-loved diamonds by reading the books that are often studied at school) I decided to remedy the never-actually-read-it status of this famous novel.

Trouble is, I’m finding it really hard going! I’m about halfway through now, and I have to keep going back to it after breaks with something else – not an approach I usually take – because I’m finding the characters and the narrative confusing, I’m finding the flow disjointed and hard to follow, and I’m struggling to keep my mental footing in the absurdity of it all.

think I get it – Heller is making a comment on the absurdity and surrealism of war. I mean, I’d definitely agree with that – humans trying so hard to kill other humans is (IMO) absurd and surreal. The second World War was – quite frankly -a completely ridiculous situation for anyone to find themselves in, so it makes a weird kind of sense that this ‘great American novel’ set there would also be completely ridiculous. The trouble is, surrealism, ridiculousness and absurdity don’t make for an easy read!

Some of my main struggles are these: the characters are hard to keep track of, as we don’t get a lot of back story, and what we do get is surreal. The timeline seems to keep hopping around – I can never quite keep track of who is dead, alive, ill, pretending, missing, on a mission, a friend or an enemy*.  There’s not a lot of description going on, so I (a very visual thinker) find it even harder to keep track of everything because there’s not a clear picture in my head.

Anyway, like I said, I’m about halfway through right now, and it’s taking me absolutely ages, so I figured I’d do a mid-read review rather than simply disappearing into silence. I’m going to go and read something light and fluffy before having a crack at another chapter!

Have you read it? What did you think? What made it easier to read for you?

* I recognise that this is the point. It must have been extremely difficult for soldiers on the front line to keep track of all of that, as well.

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