Book review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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Published: 1961

So I know already I am going to get a lot of hate for this rating, and I have thought long and hard about it and just accepted it!

I’ll start focusing on the positives before I delve into the areas that I really struggled to appreciate. Firstly, it’s obvious a sensitive subject, the Second World War, and the author tries to discuss this subject with more humorous undertones than many other novels would, and for that I appreciate it.

The basic synopsis is, the book following a group of airmen stationed on an island off the coast of Italy during the latter half of the Second World War. We primarily follow the main protagonist, Captain Joseph Yossarian, and his disillusionment with the war and military in general. Throughout we dip into the other soldier’s lives at the base and we get to understand where they have come from and their hopes from the war. There are definitely moments when the author is trying to nail the theme and idea home, and it’s at these points where I get interested and want to listen, like this scene for example:

” Nately was instantly up in arms again. ‘ There is nothing so absurd about risking your life for your own country!’ he declared.

‘Isn’t there?’ asked the old man. ‘What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth fighting for.’ ” (283)

This is a soldier questioning the whole purpose of war, and questioning his own participation in it.

As you keep reading, the book reveals how corrupt, selfish and ineffective the military officials are and how the war is completely insane. I think that the theme of “catch-22” and how soldiers are made vulnerable by the war (like a prison sentence for them really!) are very poignant however, and there is a big however, I couldn’t get into the author’s writing style and humour at all, so although I understood what he was getting at, I did NOT enjoy the journey of getting there.

I also really struggled to relate or to feel any appreciation toward any of the characters, even the main protagonist I only really started to appreciate him when we got to the latter half of the book and by then it was too late to save it for me. Near the end the author was trying to tie in all his themes of the novel and a number did stand out for me. For example, the scene where Yossarian tries to escape to Rome because he realises how twisted the war and and world is, even in the glorious country he’s fighting for:

“What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives were socked, and how many children were bullied, abused and abandoned. “(472)

The rest of the characters are too similar, there are only a couple that stand out for me (Milo, Major Major, Chaplain and Nately). The rest have very similar characteristics and blend into one for me. The author does invest into the characters stories (or at least tries to) and this forms the bulk of the book. Nonetheless, when the characters described are so similar and quite frankly detestable in nature it’s challenging to find interest in the book. After a period of time, I did realise that the whole point WAS to make the reader not like most of the characters, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed this knowledge.

Lastly, and this permeated through his writing, it’s all very chaotic. I understand this is what it’s meant to be to show how confused and dumbfounded the war makes people, however it was quite challenging and frustrating to keep track. The chaos permeated the chronology of the book, the character’s thought processing as well as the character’s conversations so it felt like much ado about nothing in the end.

It was definitely hard because I had such high hopes for this novel, but in the end it wasn’t an enjoyable read and at times it quite annoyed me. Maybe it will be better the second time around, but I think I will have to wait a bit longer to find that out.

8 thoughts on “Book review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

  1. I know what you mean about not liking a book as much as others.
    I struggled through To Kill a Mockingbird—still wondering what all the hoopla’s about. I wound up giving it 3 stars, and I was being generous. 🤷🏽‍♀️

    • That’s so interesting about not enjoying To Kill A Mockingbird, I really liked reading that book but I can definitely see how the writing style can turn people off! Have you read Catch-22?

      • To this day I keep asking what was so great about To Kill A Mockingbird and I can’t say I remember one response from anybody. I was so glad when I finally reached the end of that book. I’d had enough of Boo Radley (I think his name was), and that tree. I’ve read countless books that were amazing reads and should easily be called classics if that book was called one. 🤦🏽‍♀️

      • I can definitely see what you mean. I think for me what resonated with me is the author’s writing style. I think that Harper Lee did an amazing job writing from a child’s perspective, and it sort of brought me back to my childhood in terms of how I perceived the word and the freedom that I had. I felt transported to my younger self in a way, which I guess doesn’t happen to me often!

      • Oh. Well at least you have a reason for appreciating the book. 😊

        I couldn’t relate to that aspect of it unfortunately. And the rest of it was very mediocre to me. 🤷🏽‍♀️

  2. Pingback: Wednesday Wondering: Twenty-Eighteen Book Awards | friendlybookworm

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