Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

I'm not sure how to summarise this. The book is "about" the narrator's attempt to write a book about what happened on the day that the first atomic bomb was dropped. He tries to interview relatives of the Nobel prize winning scientist who was involved in its design. Eventually he (and members of the scientist's family) end up on a Caribbean island, ruled by dying despot who's been engaged in some kind of feud with Bokonon, an inhabitant of the island who's started a religion which is followed by most of the islanders.

But although I think that sort of captures some of the "plot" elements, the book is more about ideas than story - I think he's having a dig at stuff like organised religion, science, and war. (I'll read the wikipedia article in a minute and it'll probably turn out I missed the point completely).

I didn't really like the book though - it wasn't magic realism but it was tending in that direction, because the world described didn't seem to obey a very coherent set of rules: I couldn't work out what was meant to be taken literally and what was metaphorical. I quite liked the "ice nine" - an isotope of water that immediately solidifies any other water it comes into contact with, and so must at all costs be kept away from the sea - but apart from that I don't think there were any ideas that really caught my attention.

The "Cat's Cradle" of the title refers to the game that the scientist was playing and is used (for a little while) as a symbol (I think) for meaninglessness, but for only a small bit of the book: if it had recurred more often it would have been better I think.

So, it was a book that took me a long time to get through and I'm not sure I got much out of it. It does seem to be rated as a seriously important book though so I guess I just must have missed the point. Actually I think I felt the same about Slaughterhouse-Five - felt like it was significant but I had trouble with the unreality of it - so perhaps it's just not my kind of writing (sorry to both Kurts - the one who gave me the book, and the one who wrote it).

Completed : 29-Jan-2010

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