Joseph Heller – Catch-22 (Book Review)

61k33tu1calOpening Line: It was love at first sight.

Book Cover Blurb: Set in the closing months of World War II, this is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him.

His real problem is not the enemy – it is his own army which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service.

If Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions then he is caught in Catch-22: if he flies he is crazy, and doesn’t have to; but if he doesn’t want to he must be sane and has to.

That’s some catch…

Genre: Classic Fiction/Humor

Sample Passage:

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

Review

I tried to like this book. I REALLY tried.

I’ll give anything a go, provided that there is a strong, consistent story-line and interesting characters to draw me in.

Despite placing highly in the BBC Top 100 Books of all time, this was a book that frustrated the hell out of me. Normally I speed through books in a matter of days if I’m riveted. This took me seven weeks to complete.

The opening chapters jump from hospital to military camps, darting from past to present. It was really confusing to figure out the timelines. Although the characters were really well drawn, there were far too many to process.

Yossarian, our protagonist and one of only two sane voices in the camp (the other being the chaplain) appears far too infrequently. Every chapter focuses on a different character and while this was fun at certain junctures, it becomes very muddled for the reader especially as the chapters begin to stack up.

I’ll freely admit that for the first third of the book I was lost. There didn’t appear to be any plot. The story just didn’t advance. Interesting diversions along route gave me the juice to continue – amusing dialogue between the ever-shifting roles of colonels, generals and majors; dalliances between some of the prostitutes and the officers in Rome; the flight missions which nearly always ended in disaster.

Despite some of the excellent characterisation, the book became quite repetitive in places in the latter stages.

Some reviewers on Amazon call the book ‘laugh-out loud funny’. The Monty Python style humour just doesn’t hit the spot for me, although many do warm to that brand of comedy.

I enjoyed the second half more than the first. It seemed to skip along at a nice pace around about the mark when the number of missions required for the officers to complete was parked (briefly) at sixty.

With some of the peripheral characters killed off, and the smaller cast becoming easier to track, I followed the story through to its conclusion – one that didn’t bowl me over if truth be told.

Catch-22 threatened to abort my mission to complete the Top 100 Books. For those who similarly experience turbulence in the opening chapters, strap in – it won’t clear for a long time.

Author: Joseph Heller
Other Books Written: Something Happened
Time to Complete: 7 weeks
Interesting Fact: The original name of the novel was Catch-18. Acquiescing to his publisher’s qualms about confusion with the similarly themed novel Mila 18, Heller dragged his title through a sequence of changes: Catch-11 (which was deemed too similar to the contemporary film Ocean’s 11), followed by Catch-17 (which posed the same problem with Billy Wilder’s war movie Stalag 17), and then Catch-14 (which Heller’s publisher thought just didn’t sound funny enough). Finally, the writer landed on Catch-22 (source).
Rating: 6 /10

Next BookThe Secret History, Donna Tartt

Part of the BBC Big Read 100 List

Further Reading – Remembering BBC’s The Big Read, The Top 100 Quotes from the Top 100 Novels

pathfinders chapter 1

9 thoughts on “Joseph Heller – Catch-22 (Book Review)

  • None you seems to have suffered conscription, nor do you seem to be familiar with Heym´s Crusaders or Vonneguts Slaughterhouse. Yet even so, whenever I open the book and start reading a line, I cannot stop. It´s not suspense, it´s the logic. Don´t look for thrill in the action but for the people around you who bear symptoms akin to those men in the book. Politics at present provides hordes. And Milo Minderbinder rings a bell, sure!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  • (psychiatrists Major Sanderson:) “You´re immature. You´ve been unable to adjust to the idea of war”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you´re at war and might get your head blown off any second.”
    “I more than resent it, sir. I´m absolutely incensed.”
    “You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don´t like bigots, bullies, snobs or hypocrites. Subconsciously there many people you hate.”
    “Consciously, sir, consciously,” Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. “I hate them consciously.”
    “You´re antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated or deceived. Misery depresses you. Slums depress you. You know, it wouldn´t surprise me if you´re a manic-depressive!”
    “Yes, sir. Perhaps I am.”
    “Don´t try to deny it.”
    “I´m not denying it, sir,” said Yossarian, pleased with the miraculous rapport that finally existed between them. “I agree with all you said.”
    “Then you admit you´re crazy, do you?”
    “Crazy?” Yossarian was shocked. “What are you talking about? Why am I crazy? You´re the one who´s crazy!”
    Major Sanderson turned red with indignation again and crashed both fists down upon his thighs. “Calling me crazy,” he shouted in a sputtering rage, “is a typically sadistic and vindictive paranoic reaction! You really are crazy!”
    “Then why don´t you send me home?”
    “And I´m going to send you home!”

    “They are going to send me home!” Yossarian announced jubilantly, as he hobbled back into the ward.
    “Me too!” A. Fortiori rejoiced. “They just came to my ward and told me.”
    “What about me?” Dunbar demanded petulantly of the doctors.
    “You?” they replied with asperity. “You are going with Yossarian. Right back into combat!”
    And back into combat they went.

    This sums up a lot, does it not?

    And I recommend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOs3uIEyHaY esp. the interlude – great art by both Munro´s Retro and Burden & The Animals – or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP0IXOr9O8U

    Liked by 1 person

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