After I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, I decided to also read Mother Night. With Slaughterhouse Five, I was not impressed, but I found it interesting, and full of irony. I cannot say that I liked it at the beginning, but it grew on me after I found out some cool stuff about the writer, and how he connected his books.
With Mother Night, there is a new whole story! I enjoyed the book from the first sentences until the last ones, although the writing style is a bit clumsy. Nonetheless, I like it more than I liked Slaughterhouse Five.
The protagonist of Mother Night is just a simple man who carries on his life after the war was done. He is not a hero, and he might be quite annoying at times (if you are the sort of person who needs to relate or care for a character).
What is so good about this book?
#1st thing: the writing style
What makes Vonnegut’s books enjoyable is his style. Unlike other writers, he has a coherent idea of what he wants to write, and then he tries to explore the subject as much as possible. However, he does not jump from one sequence to another, making intricate plots and giving clues, but puts it all in plain view. In other words, his style is simple and the storyline linear.
The chapters are written short, so that you can understand what is all about. In my opinion, he does not try to imply a moral on the reader, but rather tries to look at life as a series of unfortunate events that people are conscious about.
Of course, the most astounding characteristics of his style are irony and satire! You can sense that in every sentence.
#2nd thing: the characters
If you do not know, I try to accentuate characters that might be well-written without the reader needing to be emotionally attached to them. Here the protagonist is such a case (and all the other characters, but they are more in the background). He is emotionally numb, living out of curiosity as the war left him with nothing (identity, family, friends).
However, as the action unfolds, you understand his reasoning and even laugh at some points (he laughs too, so there is no problem).
#3rd thing: it does not take itself too seriously.
The story revolves around Howard Campbell, an American spy who pretended to be a Nazi during the Second World War. After 16 years, he cannot prove that he was a spy, so he is put for trial in Israel. During his imprisonment, he writes his memoir.
The reader reads about his life, his marriage and why he cannot prove that he was a spy (or can he?). Everything seems like a big deal, something someone should be concerned about, but Campbell is so detached that he would rather laugh than worry.
A healthy attitude if you ask me.
What is not so good about it?
Just like what is good, it is just a matter of perspective.
What I really liked about it, others found it too plain or boring.
Most people like to empathize with a character or be attached to it, so if you are like that, maybe Mother Night is not the best choice for you. How can you like a character that does not give a damn about himself or his life? And you presumably do…
If you like to read about spies, and you are interested in what he did, how he did it, why he did it, you might be a bit dissatisfied. This part is not explored that much in the traditional sense, but put briefly (as the impact is more important than what happened).
The layout? The numbering? I’m not sure what is the specific name for this part, but it refers to how many pages a chapter has. The chapters are really short (maybe 10 pages at most, and on average 4 pages), and for some people it was weird.
Should I read it?
Definitely! If you are a fan of irony, satire, and you are bored by classical Second World War stories.
I do not say that the Second World War was not a catastrophe or that it just not be taken seriously, or that classical narratives about it are bad or boring. Some of them are compelling and worth reading, but the number of stories about WW2 is too much. Most of them are suffocating and repetitive (or that is how I feel after a whole semester of hearing and reading such novels, poems, and essays).
Thus, Mother Night is a breath of fresh air, and it feels real. It feels like a story that could happen. The mentality presented could have been real for some people that were too numb to care about something. Its jokingly manner is charming!
I hope you’ll find it a pleasant reading, and I also recommend reading Roadside Picnic.