When I first picked up a copy of Catch-22, I was yet blissfully unaware of the potential contained within the pages. Whilst the red cover was striking, there was nothing particulary special about the book. I scanned the blurb – mildly amusing, encouraging – and the reviews (though little attention was paid). The most important factor in this purchase (being a student and needing to save my money for alcohol and fast food) was the price, and seeing that it was standard publisher rrp, I gave in and bought it. When I left Waterstones, still somewhat sour that I couldn’t find a free ebook version on the internet (I confess that I have no patience with publishers, I’m pretty sure they’re ripping off the authors anyway) I remained ignorant of the power of this book to make me laugh, question and cry, all within one page of Joseph Heller’s exquisite script.
Here’s the thing. I’ve come to assume that the vast majority of books on my English Literature reading list are, well frankly, boring. They seem to have little or no relevance to me, and my essays seem to be a jumble of words that I’ve vomited onto the page in a coherent order that pretty much just rephrases my seminar tutor’s or lecturer’s opinion. Whilst that may be something of an exaggeration (I love my course, but I do have to wonder sometimes – what’s the point? Should I have done Chemistry like my parents told me to?) The point is that I truly didn’t believe that Catch-22 was going to be any different. I realise now that I was utterly wrong. I should have known from the prophetic shopkeepers attestation that ‘I would enjoy reading Heller,’ that this was a book to be reckoned with.
Essentially, without giving away the plot, the story, is about the very notion of a catch-22 situation. (Ok, I have no intention to patronise here, I apologise.) Not just one, but the endless varieties that the protagonist, Yossarian encounters. Heller executes this in a smooth, seamless script, one which weaves in, out and around itself with such graceful ease that you wonder how on earth he managed it. Heller manipulates his readers emotions in such a way that it is impossible not to do his bidding – we laugh when he wants us to laugh, we cry when he wants us to cry and we almost scream with delight at the moments when he wants us to scream with delight. For a book that will move you through every emotion you can muster up, look no further.
Finally, my lecturers have led me to a book which I can enjoy, which has stirred my passion for reading again. Maybe there’s hope for us yet and we will not (as some lecturer decided to put into our final year exam to dishearten us all) finish our degrees either hating literature or mad. (And no, that’s not a direct quote.)