I must admit that I was a wee bit daunted when the Classics Club spin number meant I would be reading Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – well it’s so long, and I had been meaning to read it for absolutely yonks, since one of my sons read it at school and loved it. Surprisingly I really loved it too, but I can see that a lot of people wouldn’t get on with it, above all it’s really funny. Heller managed to out-Kafka Kafka. Catch 22 was first published in 1961.
The setting is Italy during World War 2 and at the beginning Captain John Yossarian is in hospital, supposedly with a liver problem which has the doctors baffled but really he’s just there trying to stay alive and dodge having to fly into enemy areas and engage with enemy planes. He’s really incensed that he is still having to go on flying missions, every time he gets close to his last mission according to the rules, his boss extends the mission limit. It was originally 25 but soon it might be 80 missions. He fears he’s not going to survive the war at this rate. He would be able to get home if he was insane, but the fact that he wants to survive is proof of sanity – that’s the catch.
All of the high ranking officers despise each other, there’s really an internal war going on between them which is far more important as far as they are concerned than the actual war. As ever though (or so it seems to me) the craziest one is the one to be promoted. He’s only interested in getting the men to march in their off-time. That won’t be at all appealing to the men who obviously spend their time in Rome when they can, enjoying the charms of the local women.
There’s so much in this book, but it’s a difficult one to write about. It’s anti-authority, religion,
bureaucracy and anti-war, and the main character Yossarian better known as Yo-Yo is so likeable, which always helps. In fact there’s even a cat in my extended family who has been named in honour of the character!
It seems that some people have a problem with this book, I didn’t have but I must say that the more you read, the better it gets.