Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

This isn’t the first Kurt Vonnegut book on my Blogtober list, nor will it be the last (there’s another one coming tomorrow) but it is the first complete novel of his that I’ve written about. Which is surprising seeing as he is one of my all time favourite writers. I’ve put it after Brave New World because both involve the question of what it means to have a ‘civilised’ society and whether science is the true measure of what it means to progress as humans, as well as utopian projects as a means of control.

Cat’s Cradle revolves around the narrator’s obsession with the- fictional- co-creator of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker, who also creates a new structure of water called ice-nine that restructures any water molecules around it in to ice. While researching his book John, the narrator, ends up on an island where the inhabitants all follow a religion called Bokonism, which is banned and punishable by being impaled on a hook.

It’s a very weird premise, but then all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books are. Bokonism is a fabricated religion made up by a cynical man, but it comes across as twee and weirdly philosophical. The ‘Bokonisms’ sum up the book pretty well; cynical, but deceptively quotable and meaningful. One of my favourites is a prime example:

Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.”

I have issue with how the people native to the island might be interpreted- indeed how they’re written- whilst there’s that juxtaposition of the western world creating atomic weaponry (and just how ‘civilised’ can we really call ourselves) and people living under a small-scale autocracy… I feel like, if published now, that kind of juxtaposition would, quite rightly, upset people and potentially harm them. So, read with some degree of caution, as with many ‘classics’.


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