Classic Book of the Week: Catch 22

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By Ellie Porter

Photo supplied

Over the summer, whilst nannying, I rather inevitably got bored. It was in this state of ennui that I resolved to do something worthwhile rather than trying to slowly work my way through all 10 series of Friends, so I typed ‘must-read books’ into Google and came out with the BBC’s ’50 Classic Must-Read’ booklist. It’s a pretty impressive list, including the likes of Anna Karenina and War and Peace and, thankfully, a fair number of the Harry Potters .

Since every book is clearly worth reading it is hard to know where to begin and so I have left it down to random chance to make my selection. After attending the ‘Catch 20 20’ party (along with its rather questionable DJ), a certain book came to mind; Joseph Heller’s war time novel, Catch 22. Nothing to do with each other of course, but seemed like a good place to start.

The title of the book introduces to us a key motif; Catch 22. It is with this notion, the circular reasoning used to justify all manner of atrocities, that the grotesque humour of the story unfolds, in which the omnipotent bureaucracy are seen to be the real evil of war, and the soldiers the powerless pawns left at their mercy. The protagonist, Yossarian, a World War II soldier stationed on the island of Pianosa, near the Italian coast, is both disturbing and disturbed. Through his unashamed desperation to avoid all fighting we are given an insight into humanity’s struggle in the face of the mindless brutality of war.

As the list of his remaining friends and acquaintances dwindles we finally see, after the twists and turns in the un-chronological plot, the haunting factor that triggers Yossarian’s adamant refusal to participate and endanger himself thus. The repugnant death of his young comrade, Snowden, narrated by Heller in a way enough even to make the strongest-stomached of us squirm, is the pinnacle of our understanding. Here we see, and even begin to understand, why Yossarian refuses to fight, why he spends much of his time faking illness in the hospital, why he is haunted and why he is even considered crazy. (Whether or not he is sane still remains an unanswered question.)

This is not a book for the faint hearted, but for those who can deal with its gruesome nature, it will not be forgotten. It’s raw and harrowing, grimly entertaining and irrefutably thought-provoking. It does, without a doubt, merit its place on the ’50 Classic Must-Reads’ and, squeamish or not, if I were you I would not want to miss out.

So that’s one down – only forty nine to go!

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