1001 Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
I may well be the last person on earth to read this book but I’m going to write up this review in case any of you are contemplating a reread. Find out what we thought of it and let us know what your opinion of the book.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
First Published in: 1961
Reviewed by Jen and Book Worm
Find it/Buy it here: Catch-22
Synopsis (from Amazon): Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer.
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
I’m not sure how I managed to make my way through high school without reading Catch-22 but I finally got around to it this year when it was selected as a Book of the Month for our Shelfari group.
Before reading it, all that I knew about Catch-22 was that it was an anti-war book. I had no idea it was going to be so funny. I laughed out loud multiple times and I’m not normally one to laugh aloud when reading. Take for example this exchange between Yossarian and Orr:
Why did you walk with crab apples in your cheeks?” Yossarian asked again. “That’s what I asked.”
“Because they’ve got a better shape than horse chestnuts,” Orr answered. “I just told you that.”
“Why,” swore Yossarian at him approvingly, “you evil-eyed, mechanically-aptituded, disaffiliated son of a bitch, did you walk around with anything in your cheeks?”
“I didn’t,” Orr said, “walk around with anything in my cheeks. I walked around with crab apples in my cheeks. When I couldn’t get crab apples I walked around with horse chestnuts in my cheeks.
Orr giggled. Yossarian made up his mind to keep his mouth shut and did. Orr waited. Yossarian waited longer.
“One in each cheek,” Orr said.
Orr pounced. “Why what?”
Yossarian shook his head, smiling, and refused to say.
“It’s a funny thing about this valve,” Orr mused aloud.
“What is?” Yossarian asked.
“Because I wanted –”
Yossarian knew. “Jesus Christ! Why did you want –”
The book is filled with similar seemingly nonsensical conversations and scenarios which highlight the absurd nature of war. For example, there’s a Colonel who wants to be recognized for achievements and calls in the chaplain to say prayers before a mission in order to inspire. The catch in this case is that he doesn’t want the chaplain to pick prayers that mention God or remind people of religion. There’s also the officer in charge of ordering the food who creates this elaborate black market scheme where he buys and sells his own products simply in order to inflate prices. The catch in this case is the fact that he is inflating prices against himself thus costing his company money.
The clever thing about this book is that Heller makes you laugh but without losing touch with the sadness and horror of war. He highlights these things while at the same time creating humor that ultimately leave the reader feeling fairly uncomfortable for finding humor in war. Catch-22 is also quite sad and the absurdity reflects a sense of hopelessness that many of the characters are experiencing. People die as is natural in war and both the characters and the readers have to learn to cope with these deaths.
Book Worm’s review
I read this a few years ago now and I still remember how funny I found it. Like Jen, I found there to be several laugh out loud moments, especially the debates about being sane and insane and the examples of Catch-22 throughout the novel.
The book is a satire that deals with a serious subject in a light hearted way. Most books tread carefully around issues of war and the military but this book tackles them head. Catch-22 raises serious issues in a way that is accessible to the average reader. In my opinion, this approach has more of an impact than just writing a factual piece about the “madness” of war and military orders could have done.
Some people find the story repetitive and if you are one of those bothered by recurring narrative points then you may find this novel hard going. For me, the repetition just added to the sense of futility experienced by the characters.
We’re thinking that Jen might have been the last person on earth to read this book. Have you read it? What did you think of it?
Want to try it for yourself? You can purchase your copy here: Catch-22