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Booklog: Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

I listened to the Audible Modern Classics edition, well narrated by Victor Levine. I especially liked his characterization of the Blue Fairy Godmother.

This book is set in WWII Germany, post-war New York City, and a prison cell in Israel. It has no science fiction tropes. I did not find any of the characters particularly likeable (but that's true of most Vonnegut for me).

A line from this book is one of the favorites in my quote file, and it sums up one of the themes of the book:
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
This book is evidence that Vonnegut is one of the great American writers. He has the gift of making hope out of emptiness and simplicity, something that many people assume only Zen Buddhist masters can do.

View all my goodreads.com reviews.

Goodreads.com posted to my Facebook status line when I added this book, and my friend [info] - personalsupergee commented that he didn't like the book. I asked why and he wrote "Not sf, crappy characters, dumb moral."

I agree with point 1.

I also somewhat agree with point 2 (see above) and it puzzles me why Vonnegut's "crappy characters" don't bother me the way some writers' crappy characters do. I think it has something to do with how Vonnegut's protagonists mostly aren't emo, and/or how Vonnegut's writing style is definitely not emo. (I'm contrasting it to my reaction to Dan Simmons's Hyperion, which has some tremendously emo characters which are punched up because the writing style can be pretty emo.)

I don't know what [info] - personalsupergee thinks the moral of the book is; the closest I can come to a moral in it is what I quoted above. I don't think that's a dumb moral, although I'm not sure I agree with it. (For me, it might be a prescription that I tend to over-follow. I have a hard time pretending, and it limits me in some ways.)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC)
I love Vonnegut. Always have. It think Mother Night is brilliant. I never really felt the characters, or their likability, was really the point of Vonnegut's books. I mean, of course the characters are important, but it is the the story and the resulting commentary about humankind and life that always stuck with me from his books. The characters were not something I carried around with me for years the way a character in a Marge Piercy or Margaret Atwood novel might stay with me, but that is OK and I don't necessarily find it a flaw in his work--the non-likability of the characters didn't detract from the work and they were clearly constructed the way they were for a reason. I am not generally a fan of SF but I like Vonnegut enough and find his work to be surreal enough when it floats into SF territory that I like it done his way. No SF content in Mother Night is not a deterrent for me.

Glad you enjoyed it. Mother Night ranks up there in my top Vonnegut along with Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five.
Jun. 11th, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
I agree with you about the characters. I read Vonnegut in high school and loved most of what I read. Unfortunately my liking for Slaughterhouse Five didn't survive my post-feminist-fat-activist re-read. Some of the stories in Welcome to the Monkey House did, though.
Jun. 11th, 2009 08:20 am (UTC)
Unfortunately my liking for Slaughterhouse Five didn't survive my post-feminist-fat-activist re-read.

Hmmm....I haven't re-read it in a long, long time. Perhaps my liking would change too. Probably since even parts of Marge Piercy novels grate on me as I get older and more developed as a feminist/activist (and, totally off topic, as much as I love some of Piercy's work I equally dislike a number of her books.) Anyhow, I think that regardless of whether or not I like Slaughterhouse Five today, it had a huge impact on me so I would still list it as an "important book in my life."

I actually haven't read "Welcome to the Monkey House." Perhaps I will.
Jun. 11th, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
That was me, and "We are what we pretend to be" is precisely the moral that made me say, "Who are you and what have you done with the guy who wrote Cat's Cradle and The Sirens of Titan?"

Of course we are not what we pretend to be, good or bad. Vonnegut fundamentally distrusted all fiction and pretense. Like a fundamentalist with a large penis, he had a gift for something he found despicable. Deadeye Dick was incredibly boring because he felt it would have been wrong to make it interesting, and the final expression of that self-hatred was Galapagos, in which he imagined how much happier we would be without those big human brains. I am not surprised that he attempted suicide after he finished it.

And yet, when he was not expressing that one craziness, he was a genius: the two books I mentioned, Breakfast of Champions (in which he briefly overcame his guilt about making things up), and marvelous stories like "The Barnhouse Effect."
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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