This novel is an iconic satire on the craziness of war which is funny, tireless, confusing and brilliant all at the same time
Den scores *
* This month our book of the moment scores varied from 5-9. Scores were divided due to complex narrative.
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BY JOSEPH HELLER
The Reading Den chose Catch-22 for book clubbers to pre-empt the screen adaptation starring George Clooney, Kyle Chandler and Hugh Laurie (2019). Being such an iconic piece of writing and at just over 500 pages long Catch 22 provides a great opportunity to read this sublime, yet totally brilliant piece of writing. Satire at its best.
Some of us in the Den were reading Catch-22 for a second time. For others it was new and for a few it even tested our '101 page rule', but persevere, because once you get into it, Catch-22 is a remarkably funny and poignant piece of writing about the terror and futility of war.
Yossarian is an American bombardier based with the US air-force in Italy towards the end of WW2, who would do anything not to be killed by people he doesn’t know or care about “That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance.” At the end of every 'last mission' with the prospect of home in sight, Colonel Cathcart increases the number of required missions, so Yossarian decides the only way to escape is to feign madness – which is where catch-22 comes in. Catch 22 specifies that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of real and immediate dangers was the process of a rational mind so anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy - so whether sane or crazy Yossarian has to fly his missions.
Insanity is a recurring feature in all the characters; Major Major, a harmless individual is thwarted to become a recluse, the doubting Chaplain who fails to please anyone and misses his wife and children although he can’t remember what they look like, Doctor Daneeka who doesn’t deem it his business to save lives. And Colonel Dreedle who believes he must be in huge peril from Yossarian basically because there are too many “esses” in his name. Every character suffers from some paranoia.
Heller's writing is extremely dark and absurd laying bare the farcical rules the airmen have to adhere to, the randomness of authority and the abuse of power. The scene of Yossarian standing in for a dying soldier in hospital faking Guiseppe’s death should be totally tragic but is hilarious.
Catch-22 is overall a masterpiece and a super book club choice.
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