Book review of “Catch-22″ by Joseph Heller.
Joseph Heller published this best-selling novel in 1961, and it is the only book I’ve ever read more than once. It is also one of the first books that come to mind when someone asks me to name my favorite book of all time (along with Ondaatje’s novels “The English Patient” and “The Cat’s Table”). This begs the question as to why I’ve never reviewed it, and my only answer is that I simply never got around to writing a review. But that’s not completely true. There’s something about reviewing a book that you love so much that you’re afraid you’ll ruin it for others with your review. There’s also the problem of having something new to say about a book that is so iconic, its title is now literally a dictionary entry. What I mean by this is that even those who have never read this book know what is meant when someone calls something is a “catch-22” situation.
Of course, I could talk about how this book was almost called “Catch-18” but the publication of Leon Uris’s novel “Mila 18” made them change the title before publication. I could discuss how it compares and contrasts with the book M*A*S*H, which became a wonderful film (unlike the film version of this book) and an amazing TV series (they didn’t dare), but I can’t because I never read that book (but I have the DVD of the film, and one day I hope to buy the full set of the TV show on DVD as well). But I think I would prefer to write a real review of this novel, and not an essay, trivia article or a list of FAQs. But first:
So, what is it about this book that has enthralled me? To begin with, I’d have to say that the writing is probably the first reason. Heller’s prose here is irreverently sassy and filled with absurdities together with an underlying anguish for the suffering of these people who are living in the eye of a storm as soldiers. It is important to note that despite the many humorous sections, Heller doesn’t gloss over any of the tragedies, nor make light of any of the misery. Still, Heller’s book is really a comedy at heart, albeit a very acerbic one.
Combine this with what seems like a deep affection for every character, is what helps Heller portray both the nonsense and the pathos with equal aplomb. Furthermore, although we get angry with certain characters for things they do and say, Heller also shows us their vulnerable sides as well (for the most part). That means, of course, that those characters we love – the protagonist Yossarian in particular – also receive a balanced presentation, and we love them even more for their flaws together with their strengths. Furthermore, although Heller fills this book with literally dozens of characters – both minor and of slightly more import – each one gets just enough focus and detail that I’ve never felt confused regarding who each of them were, or what they were doing.
These two important elements only enhance Heller’s wildly spectacular plot, that weaves its way through the many unusual characters and their equally curious antics. What’s more, the number of stories and goings on surrounding the essential plot of Yossarian not wanting to fly any more missions are as various and numerous as the number of stories. Yet again, this is because Heller writes with such control that we’re never bewildered by any of them.
In short, I’ve always found every aspect of this book to be masterfully written, and that Heller constructed the whole work to absolute perfection. This novel is a joy to read from start to finish, including the scenes that are upsetting and even gruesome at times. There is nothing that could make me give this less than a full five stars out of five, and recommend it highly and wholeheartedly (and I think I need to re-read it yet again)!
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller is still available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Kobo audio books, eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you.
PS: The TV series… yeah, it is good. Very good, in fact. No, it isn’t the book, but it certainly gives us the flavor of the novel. But the movie – NO! That was an epic failure! FYI!