Author: Joseph Heller
Published: 1961 (this edition 2004)
Publisher: Vintage Classsics
Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 tells the story of a bombardier seeking discharge from the US army during the Second World War and is as controversial as it is loved and as tragic as it is darkly humorous. It really is the novel that, with the use of a darkly satirical voice, best manages to convey what war can do to a man. This is the best war novel I’ve ever read, but is refreshingly devoid of the normal ‘dulce et decorum est’ sentimentality. Instead, it simply places the darkest aspects of war into humorous situations, resulting in one of the funniest but most poignant book I’ve ever read. It is sentimental because it barely ever tries to be- it simply bluntly states facts about the affects of combat on a man and a country.
Catch 22‘s protagonist Yossarian, a bombardier in the American army who is constantly denied in his quest to leave the US army, is one of the best characters I’ve ever encountered in a novel. Heller’s third-person narrative provides a simple but affecting insight into how a soldier is effected by the world around him by the means of insights into Yossarian’s thoughts. He is amusing, yet seeing his outlook on life changed so drastically by what he sees during the war really is unnerving. Heller has succeed in creating the Every Man of the war novel rather than the unrealistic hero who would do anything for his country. Yossarian may at first seem insane when in the midst of his anti-war rants, however he actually begins to sound more same as the novel progresses and we see the horrors he faces so regularly. His fellow soldiers are similarly ‘real’, with not one of them ever seriously discussing the glory dying for their country will bring. I’d like to assume this would be somewhat more realistic than your typical patriotic hero. I held a particular soft spot for Milo, the squadron’s corrupt mess hall manager, because he was simply impossible to hate! Despite some of the heinous things he does, you just can’t help but be amused by his antics!
Heller further deserves praise for the way he actually writes. Catch 22 has one of the weirdest narratives I’ve ever read, partly because it’s deliberately written in a disjointed manner to reflect Yossarian’s muddled thoughts and partly because it manages to convey both devastation and humour so well. In many ways, the book is more of an anti-war ramble than a traditional novel. That being said, one of the book’️s many strong points is the fact it features so many different stories of various soldier’s escapades, all of which interlink and come back to Yossarian in some way. It was often poignant to hear of the ultimate fate of such men too. The real story of the war is told through them, and not the description of the various battles.
As a whole, Catch 22 is a novel of two parts. The first half is laugh out loud fully and brimming with dark humour, the second is deeply sad and reflective. Brilliant though it is, one can’t imagine ever reading this book without feeling slightly unnerved to think of what our soldiers went though. This is an intense book, and never either an easy read or boring. However, it’s also wonderfully eccentric and engrossing. I admire its stance on everything from patriotism to religion- even the best of us must agree with Yossarian on several occasions! This is the only war novel I’ve ever read that actually conveys the idea of striving for survival and every man for himself when men are out there in combat. Another thing I liked was the way it pointed out flaws in the US army as well as the enemy by satirically highlighting the corruption Yossarian must overcome in order to finally be grounded. Ultimately, Catch 22 has debate at its heart: can you deal with a sensitive issue with humour? I would like to think that you can, as black humour provides the only light relief in a novel I would consisted to be first a tragedy, and second a comedy.
Rating: ***** (5/5)
‘It was a man’s world, and she and everyone younger had every right to blame him and everyone older for every unnatural tragedy that befell them…. Someone had to do something sometime. Every victim was a culprit, every culprit a victim, and somebody had to stand up sometime to try to break the lousy chain of inherited habit that was imperilling them all”.