Author: Joseph Heller
What I think so far: This novel is possibly one of the most puzzling books I have encountered out of the disappointingly meagre portion of novels I have read in my life. Initially, I was unsure whether to write about it, simply because I do not know where to begin in explaining what this war-based novel is about; but here is my attempt.
The first chapter begins in a hospital where protagonist Yossarian is lying about having a liver condition, to avoid flying missions during World War II. It seems simple enough, only for the fact that chapter by chapter the reader finds themselves being thrown in between the stories of different soldiers living at the same camp as Yossarian, and between the different flashbacks Yossarian indulges himself in. Yet once I grew accustomed to the inconsistent and non-chronological nature of the novel, I found myself drawn in. The plot seems to be centring on the lives of the soldiers and their coping mechanisms, as the minimum number of missions to fly increases steadily and consequently the characters slowly become more and more miserable.
Something all the characters seem to obsess over is the concept of sanity, and this is one of the elements of Catch-22: if a soldier tries to get out of fighting in the war by saying they are insane, they must be sane because they are trying to get out of fighting in war and thus cannot get out of fighting war this way. That is just a taster for the paradoxical nature of the concepts in this novel. What I find most interesting about this book is the characters and the way in which Heller delves deep into the psychology of the soldiers, unpicking their brains. The characterisation of Yossarian in particular is what keeps me reading this novel.
Would I recommend it?: Yes, I think I would. I don’t usually read novels about war, but this is not just about war. This is about the impact of war on people. It’s about the mind’s capacity to maintain sanity in times of great pressure, and it’s also about the exploitation of power. Not only is this novel fascinating to read because of its political and social messages, but it is also really quite amusing. In a vaguely sadistic way, you find yourself laughing at how insane the characters sound when they talk to each other. However, our response of laughter is part of the book; laughter is our coping mechanism to deal with watching the characters live through the traumatic and psychologically damaging impact of war.
Words by India Woodward