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Book #5: Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut

Blimey, got a bit of catching up to do, it seems. I did actually read this a while ago (and so, all things being equal, the reviews of books 6 and 7 should be fairly hot on its heels), but a combination of busyness, technological woe and blogger being weird (my browser is NOT a fan of multiple blogs from different accounts) has meant that I've not actually got round to poor old Coastalblog for a bit.

(Coastalblog passim: it was ever thus)

Anyhow. In a shattering leap of type, I went from a tricksy novel by an American heavyweight to a tricksy novel by an American heavyweight. Though in my defence, Vonnegut has always resisted being bracketed with, well, anyone, which is rather why I like him.

Another reason for my fondness for Vonnegut is his utter disregard for the standard moral framework in which most Western novels are placed. His characters are often cheerfully, blankly amoral, and yet there is a deep and underlying humanity which makes us like to think we could identify with them, no matter how curious the state they're in.

So it is with Hocus Pocus's Eugene Debs. Ex-military who never wanted to join (but was good at it), killer of many in Vietnam (simultaneously lauding and repudiating the act of murder), serial philanderer (but loyal husband) and all round engaging presence. I don't thing anyone else could have written him.

The book finds him piecing together the story of his life on scraps of paper as he awaits trial for his part in the aftermath of a prison break at the prison where he used to work, and the subsequent rape and slaughter of the university across the lake (where he also used to work), and it's all done with the voice, the offhand stand-up routine of a man who has an idea of how absurd the world is, and is slightly surprised that no-one else has cottoned on.

It is, in all honesty, one of KV's slighter works, he's not really firing on all cylinders here, but it's a diverting and entertaining read nonetheless. The scrappily episodic narrative works well as a device for articulating the thoughts of a man who is, of necessity, rambling a little, and if the "hey, isn't the universe crazy" gags are occasionally wearing, there's enough depth in the minor players in Debs' life to sustain interest (his deadpan co-student at West Point, whose response to all situations, no matter how awful, is to emotionlessly state "I had to laugh like hell" is perhaps the perfect exemplar of a KV character).

And no, you don't find out if he gets away with it, that would rather be missing the point.

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