What I said then:
Vonnegut’s a huge favourite of mine, to the point that I’ve had to ration his books out so that I don’t find myself with fifty years left to live but no new Vonnegut to read.
What I say now:
Of course, there's always a chance that I'll be hit by a car tomorrow. And as I lie on the road my last thought will surely be: Consarn it, now I wish I'd read every last Kurt Vonnegut novel as soon as I fell in love with the guy.
But at least I'll have read Bluebeard.
After Drood I figured I'd treat myself to one of the 'sure things' that's still on my shelves, to perk me up a bit, and Bluebeard didn't disappoint. If you haven't read Vonnegut before, his tone of voice is difficult to describe: he's like the perfect uncle you wish you had, both wise-cracking and wise. Honestly, his writing is a mess of contradictions, managing to be simultaneously hilarious and tragic, serious and silly, and best of all, sane and insane at the same time. And for as long as you're reading a Vonnegut book, that feels like the only possible way to respond to this mad, beautiful, cruel world we live in. He's a magician.
Rabo Karabekian, an Armenian-American Abstract Expressionist painter, has a cameo in Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (his scene in that book is a favourite of mine), and is placed centre stage here. After the particular brand of paint he used for his art turns out to fall off the canvas after a while, he has become a laughing stock and is living out the last years of his life in relative seclusion. His comfortable decline is interrupted when a bossy know-it-all widow named Circe Berman shows up on his private beach and cajoles him into writing his autobiography. Bluebeard is that book, and it swings between Karabekian describing his ill-starred youth and relating the philosophical disagreements that arise between himself and Berman, who becomes his house-guest.
Spicing the book with occasional historical figures (Jackson Pollock figures prominently), Vonnegut gives us a potted history of the beginning of the Abstract Expressionist movement. However, it's the running commentary provided by the arguing Karabekian and Berman (she can't stand his collection of paintings, he can't satisfactorily explain them) which is the most fun. Their relationship --- snarky and adversarial, but still needy --- is a delight.
Sorry, this is a pretty crap review. I don't really know how to explain the appeal of Kurt Vonnegut to me. I've loved every one of his books that I've read. Reading the last third of Bluebeard on the train back from Wangaratta I laughed out loud on several occasions, and had to wipe tears from my eyes on several more. But for the life of me I can't dissect how he does it. Or maybe I don't want to dissect it.
So ... look. Go to a bookshop. Pick up a copy of Slaughterhouse Five. (That was the first book of his that I ever read, and it blew my mind apart. In a good way.) Stand in the store and read it until you come to the words "It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet?" In my edition, that's sixteen pages in. If, at that point, you haven't fallen head over heels for Kurt Vonnegut the way that I did (and still do), then I feel sorry for you. You won't know what you're missing.
about to read: Revolutionary Road by Kurt Vonnegut
books to go: 95