First published back in November of 1961, US author Joseph Heller’s debut novel ‘Catch-22’ quickly become a mainstay as a modern literary classic. 

DLS Synopsis:
It’s 1943 and the Second World War has a stranglehold over much of Europe.  On the picturesque Mediterranean island of Pianosa, US B-25 bombardier Captain John Yossarian is stationed with his Air Force squadron.  Here, in this otherwise idyllic setting, Yossarian finds himself and his fellow soldiers undergoing perilous missions at the whim of his unsympathetically ambitious superiors.

Yossarian knows the reality of war.  It’s a nightmarish and unjustified oppression upon everyone’s personal rights.  It has no mercy and has no regrets.  It exists to destroy.  And in that, it poses a very real danger to Yossarian and every other solider caught up within the turmoil of war.  Which is why Yossarian has come to the firm belief that everyone is out to kill him.

Knowing that each and every day could be his last, Yossarian struggles to find a way out of this madness that surrounds him.  His superiors continue to send him and his squadron on increasingly dangerous missions; bombing hostile targets for the glorious photographs that they can bring back.  Yossarian is very aware of the absolute insanity in such missions.  And he wants out.

But as Yossarian soon learns, one of the only ways to get out of the endlessly spiralling madness is to plead insanity.  If indeed a solider is found to be crazy, then all they need do is request leave due to insanity and it would be granted.  However, in doing so, it would be deemed that the solider is aware of their own safety in the face of the dangerous combat missions, and as such, could only have a fully rational mind.  Therefore they cannot be truly insane, and so they must carry on with their missions.  The military rule is the ingenious self-contradictory ‘Catch-22’.

Meanwhile, First Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder has been running a complex shipping syndicate outside of his military duties.  Seemingly unbeknown to his superiors, Milo has been surreptitiously taking the military planes on excursions across Europe, shipping a variety of foods and goods to a number of ports.  And his scheming produces a healthy profit, which unsurprisingly, remains predominantly with Milo.

And throughout this, Yossarian sees the utter madness of it all.  There is not sane reason behind any of it.  There is no ultimate goal, or purpose to any of it. He just needs to get himself out of the endlessly destructive spiral before it’s too late.  Now he just needs to find out how…

DLS Review:
Okay, so this is probably one of those reviews that you’re wondering why on earth it was included on this website.  Well, along with other such modern classics, there’s a very deep-rooted cultural element to these novels that is very much an inherent part to much of the fellow books which you see sitting alongside them.  The absurdness that forms a predominant theme within this particular novel is often seen (or indeed replicated) within a lot of the other work that can be found within the pages of DLS Reviews.  I’ve found myself referencing the novel a number of times across the length and breadth of the website.  And as such, I decided that there’s very much a place for the novel on here, and so the novel was reviewed and included.

The first thing that should really be said about ‘Catch’22’ is how utterly hilarious it is at times.  Heller deals in the absurd, the bureaucratic nonsense that plagues our modern-day existences.  He dishes out the ingeniously elaborate and wonderfully nonsensical.  At first there appears to be no rhyme or reason behind many of the characters’ odd actions.  Give it time.  Let Heller baffle and amuse you.  Because everything in the novel has its reasons in the end.  And that’s really the crux of the whole novel’s structure.  Heller purposefully intends to baffle the reader from the outset.  You need to get to know the characters, understand their quirks, their mannerisms, their motivations and their individual charms.  It all comes together in time, piece by piece by piece.  But not necessarily in the order that you thought it would!

Aside from the comedy aspect (which I will reiterate is absolutely superb), the tale deals with some quite thought-provoking and deeply emotive subjects.  Death is an ever-present figure, quietly looming over the progression of the tale.  Yossarian is aware of how perilous the missions are, but he is helpless against abandoning them.  Insanity and utter desperation co-exist across the entirety of the tale.  Characters are placed in the most traumatic and hopeless of situations, that underneath the jocular tone of the novel, it still yanks hard at the reader’s heartstrings.

The multiple layers and subtle depths to the tale is what really pushes it (and deservedly so) into ‘modern classic’ territory.  There’s just so much that one can take from the novel, if you dip just a little below the comic surface.  It’s certainly true that Heller takes advantage of certain emotionally heavy opportunities, breaking through the loose cover of light-hearted comedy and laying down particularly emotive scenes.  These moments feel true to the flow of the tale, always unforced and somehow not at all out-of-place.  In its own befuddled and delightfully confusing way, the tale always seems to flow very naturally.  I’m the first to admit that this seems a strange comment to make when starting out on the book, but give it time, become accustomed to the too-and-fro of the structure.  And soon enough you’ll see how it all pulls together, seamlessly and (dare I say it again) very naturally.

For me (and many, many, many others) ‘Catch-22’ holds a very special place in my heart.  Running through the plot, and skirting over the synopsis, brings back wistful memories of the many delightfully unique characters.  There are indeed a hell of a lot of characters in the novel.  But it’s a character-rich tale that almost solely revolves around their interplay and interaction.  Without the characters the novel is absolutely nothing.  There is no strong plot pushing the storyline onwards.  There is no mad adventure or evil antagonist to conquer.  There’s just the situation, the absurd obligations and the characters.  That’s it.  And what Heller has created is nothing short of a contemporary masterpiece.

The tale was later adapted into the film ‘Catch-22’ (1970) which was directed by Mike Nichols and starred a multitude of well-known and highly talented stars.  The novel was also followed on by the somewhat less well-known sequel ‘Closing Time’ (1994).

The novel runs for a total of 453 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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