Tuesday, 8 March 2016


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Galápagos (1985)
This is the fifth Vonnegut I've read and I think I'm beginning to notice a certain consistency running through his life's work. It's the peculiar and conversational digressions coming together to form a pattern from seemingly disparate elements which make his novels so distinctive and so readable, but which threatens to become a little repetitive if the book isn't doing whatever else it should probably be doing.

Galápagos riffs on the selfsame island which proved so important to Charles Darwin's work, using the setting as birthplace for a successor to the human race, an amphibious species with much smaller brains. Their origin story is told by means of a monologue tangentially concerned with our extinction and where we're going wrong. As you might expect, there's a lot to love about this tale with Vonnegut's voice as ever giving an incongruously warm and humane testimony regardless of how horrible his characters turn out to be; and funny too, of course.

The problem, which may actually be me rather than the book, is that it just goes on a bit longer than it really needed to, its length seemingly dictated by how much fun the author was having. I rarely read anything in a single sitting, so it's a pain when I come back to a novel for the second or third stretch and realise that whilst the names are familiar, I can't otherwise remember anything about these people; and given Vonnegut's characteristically over-involved level of detail, this means I become confused and then frustrated, and then I stop caring. A paragraph picked at random from any point between the first and last pages will be full of wry observations made in lovingly crafted terms, but the whole doesn't quite hold together as well as it might. This is still an inspired book in most respects, but he's written better.

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