To be honest I knew very little about this book going into it. I knew it was about the war and I knew that my dad loved it, neither of which suggested that it was something I would enjoy. Happily I was wrong.
The story, in a nutshell, is of Captain Yossarian and his crew as they try to survive the last few months of World War II, preferably in one piece. Yossarian gives us a very personal outlook on war. He can’t understand why everyone around him is trying to kill him – there may be a war on but why does that mean that HE has to die? It’s a view that the other characters find hard to relate to but I think that’s exactly how I’d feel if I ever found myself in his position.
Since this is a book about war and dying, I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog and somewhat depressing. The absolute last thing that I was expecting was to find it so funny that I actually laughed out loud but I did, on many occasions. The subject matter may not be particularly funny but the way it’s told is. Yossarian as out main character has a very dry outlook on life which is something I enjoy but aside from that, all the characters are constantly tripping each other up and turning things round on each other in order to get what they want. It’s very cleverly written and very funny.
But of course it IS a book about war and there is a political point being made here. There is a turning point towards the end of the book where things get a lot darker pretty fast and it can be hard to keep on reading but it’s definitely worth it. I have to admit to struggling with the end of the book, it all got a bit weird and dream-like for a while but right at the last minute Heller pulled it back and wrote an ending which had me practically singing it was so good.
50 years after it was published, it’s easy to see why Catch-22 is considered a classic; I haven’t read many books about war and I don’t plan on reading many more but I’m glad I read this one. Heller has perfected the art of discussing a serious message within layers of humour that make it almost palatable. I think the best way to sum it up is with a quote from the book itself:
“Who’s they?” He wanted to know. “Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?”
“Every one of them,” Yossarian told him.
“Every one of whom?”
“Every one of whom do you think?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then how do you know they aren’t?”
“Because…” Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.
Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all.”