Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember seeing the film version of this book just as I entered my teens. I could only remember small snatches from the movie: Art Garfunkel as Nately I recall as a character but not what he did; I do recall vividly the scene where the hero of the novel, Yossarian, stands in line to receive his medal for bravery completely naked bar his dog tags; I also remember just as vividly the haunting scenes leading up to just what happened to Snowdon, the friend wounded in a bombing raid whom Yossarian tries to patch up.

The book is legend, of course, and is on just about every single ‘bucket list’ of books you can find. I’ve intended to read it for a long time but feared that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations of half-remembered scenes from a movie which certainly made a deep impact at the time. I needn’t have worried. Heller’s satirical anti-war novel is no less relevant today than when it was published in 1961. The hellish, nightmare world where the lunatics are sane and the sane are lunatics is perfectly put together. The incessant to-ing and fro-ing in time is so bewildering you begin to feel the deja-vu alluded to throughout the story and wonder what the chronology really is. This is deliberate, I’m sure, so that the reader is left confused and doubting his or her own sanity along with Yossarian himself. Reading the book made me want to see the movie again but I wonder if I will, for fear the movie won’t live up to the book. How fitting that this situation has turned on its head – just as events do in the book.

Yossarian’s ‘catch-22’ is that to get out of flying dangerous missions he needs to be crazy but if he is crazy he won’t want to get out of flying missions. He needs to ask to get out of the missions but if he asks he can’t be crazy because no sane man would want to fly them. Will Yossarian find a way? I won’t tell you – that would be wrong – but I will tell you that it is worth you finding out for yourself.

The book belongs to its age along with MASH as an indictment against all that is wrong not just with war but with the machine that perpetuates it. By extension it is a book which criticises man’s inhumanity to man and the corruption of authority which will use reason and argument to make any immoral decision seem completely reasonable and inevitable. Such a world has not passed away; so this world still needs Joseph Heller as much as it needs Yossarians.

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