Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Changed My Life

I was saddened to learn that Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. He’ll always be known for 'Slaughterhouse-Five', but I’ll never forget the impact that another of his books had on my childhood imagination.

When I was about 12, I have no idea why I chose it, but I borrowed 'Slapstick’ from the public library in Leamington Spa and it blew my mind. I think I may have thought it was straight Sci-Fi from the blurb – particularly the main character living the ruins of the Empire State Building. I discovered pretty quickly that it was so much more – both stylistically and in terms of sheer imagination. The narrative is episodic and non-linear, which was something new to me at the time. And Vonnegut, as he does in so many of his novels, threw out surreal amazing ideas left, right and centre – I particularly remember the entire Chinese population being reduced to microscopic size – so that, in the end, they infect people who inhale them.

Being a creative magpie, I began to work those sorts of motifs into my stories. I think Vonnegut freed me from my restricted expectations of what fiction could be.

His writing style will always stay with me – irreverent, bemused, very human and yet displaying an almost autistic detachment at the same time. He shifts our perspective on the things we take for granted in our society and reveals their absurdity. For that his novels should always be treasured.

1 comment:

Arthur said...

Amen. I read 'Breakfast of Champions' at 16 and it "blew my mind". Funny how that turn of phrase is reserved for works like his. He was a wampeter for all of us.