Catch 22

By Joseph Heller

Rating: 4 stars

Bombardier Captain Yossarian of the US Army Air Forces is sick and tired of the whole war and wants out. All he has to do to get out is to go to the squad medic and ask to be relieved of duty. Unfortunately, there’s a catch: Catch-22 – if you’re sane enough to ask to be taken off duty then you’re sane enough to continue flying, but if you don’t ask you can’t be taken off.

Early on in this book, the word that I think that best describes it is absurd. The characters, locations and situations are all absurd, in the best meaning of the word. Heller delights in these absurd, and sometimes grotesque, characters and plays with them with a lightness of language that I found often made me smile, if rarely laugh out loud. This continues mostly throughout the book but the tone slowly changes as it goes on. It becomes less light-hearted and grimmer as the story unfolds, with a truly depressing few chapters near the end that nearly made me throw down the book in despair. But after getting through that, it lifted again and built to a satisfying conclusion.

The core of the book is the Kafke-esque bureaucracy of the military machine and the sorts of people it raises to the top of the pile and how the orders that filter down often have no meaning to those who have to carry them out. Catch-22 itself is a masterpiece of doublethink and it is that and the mindset that created it to keep Yossarian’s squadron flying ever-increasing missions that gives the novel a sense of surreal horror.

The story itself is told in a jump-around non-chronological manner that at first makes it difficult to follow what’s happening, especially since it starts fairly sequentially and starts jumping around only later. Because of this, I suspect that it might be easier to appreciate on a second reading, but even first time round, this was an impressive and evocative satire that certainly deserves a second reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857152203
Publisher: Everyman
Year of publication: 1961

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