Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Review: 'Breakfast of Champions' by Kurt Vonnegut

Breakfast of ChampionsI decided to read this book purely because of its title. It is the first Vonnegut I have read, so I decided to judge by the cover, or, since I read it on my Kindle, by the title on the cover. I am very glad to have read it because it has truly been a reading experience like no other.
In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s  most beloved characters, the aging writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth.

Vonnegut himself is central to this book. He is the one remaining factor throughout the whirlwind of characters, events and opinions that are thrown at the reader. He provides us with pictures and thoughts while we're reading, lighting upon almost everything we know or believe to know about America. The New York Times review said the following about the novel and I wholeheartedly agree:
'He wheels out all the latest fashionable complaints about America...and makes them seem fresh, funny, outrageous, hateful, and lovable, all at the same time. '
Remembering that this novel was written in the 1970s is almost a shock, considering how current some of its ideas seemed to me. Everything from racism to obesity is touched upon and discarded after analysis and judgement. The plot itself seems rather simple and any true action that we "see" takes place within a day or two. The rest of the novel is histories of characters or random thoughts that sweep the reader away from the main plot and return him later, much or less the wiser.

For a large part of the novel there seems to be no point to its existence. From almost the very first page, the reader knows the conclusion of the novel. Vonnegut doesn't hide the end from us but gives it to the reader in advance. He himself said 'To Hell with suspense.' And yet the way the plot plays out is fascinating. I found myself interrupted many times while reading this novel but never once did I consider just leaving it and moving on. I wanted to know what else Vonnegut would show, what he truly thought about his own characters. And I was hardly surprised when he himself showed up in his novel. In an interview, Vonnegut, in my eyes, revealed how a work as this could be created.
"I was really surprised when Karabekian said what he did about the band of light."
What Karabekian says about the band of light is, in my eyes, a key to the heart of the novel. It is one of the moments in 'Breakfast of Champions' where everything becomes very clear and the reader and Vonnegut are able to look through the clutter of everyday life that permeates the pages and see, for mere seconds perhaps, life for what it is. The fact that this came about as a surprise for Vonnegut himself makes it all the more beautiful. Outside of his knowledge, life was revealing itself to him and through him to us.

I am almost sorry to have finished this novel because it is an amusing mix between laugh-out-loud moments and moments of realization. It is both fiction and auto-biography, both personal to Vonnegut and universal. I have no doubt that in rereading this novel I will discover much more, not only about Vonnegut but also about the novel itself. Perhaps a warning should come with this novel. You have to have the trust to follow Vonnegut wherever he takes you. He is in command of the story, even though the characters escape him at times. Don't expect this novel to be a neatly wrapped present that will reveal itself easily and not leave you without questions. This novel is a glimpse into life and as such it hardly could have a satisfying, final ending. I will end this review the way he ended his novel.


I give this novel...

5 Universes!

It is a masterpiece. No more needs to be said.

1 comment:

  1. I love Vonnegut, and I've only read three of his novels. I enjoyed this one, but Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five are both so brilliant.