Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Review - Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut

I have been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut since the early 1970s. I still have the old paperbacks – Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5. There was something about his style, and especially about the things he had to say, that was refreshing and new. But he began to go off the boil, or fell out of style, and I stopped reading his books around about the time I stopped buying Crosby, Stills and Nash LPs. For me, Breakfast of Champions was both the last decent book he wrote, and the first of the stream of below-par books that followed. I just checked my bookcase – Slapstick in 1976 was the last Vonnegut book I bought, and the ancient bookmark stuffed midway through shows I never managed to finish it. And I had problems trying to finish his ‘new’ collection, too.

Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of twelve previously unpublished short stories and articles. The collection has been compiled posthumously by his son Mark Vonnegut, ostensibly as a tribute to his late father and to commemorate the first anniversary of the author’s death. But these stories are a poor epitaph for a man who was once a great writer. The further I read, the weaker the stories became. Maybe it was because I had already got the point right at the start, but the stories seemed to become increasingly predictable and, well, a little embarrassing. There is a reason why these stories could not be published during Kurt’s lifetime.

In his introduction, Mark Vonnegut asks of his father, ‘How could he get away with it?’ A question he might well redirect towards himself for bringing out a collection that, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, should have remained unpublished.

For a fuller review of this book, go to The Bookbag website.

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