Timequake – Kurt Vonnegut

A dystopian nightmare where the world’s inhabitants are forced to relive every waking moment of the past decade down to the smallest of details? Tick. A book billed as addressing “memory, suicide, the Great Depression, the loss of American eloquence, and the thrill of reading books”*. Tick. A novel by Vonnegut, an author whose work I’ve been wanting to read for some time? Tick.

To say reading Timequake was an ‘experience’ would be an understatement…I hardly know where to begin. One thing I do know however, is that Vonnegut himself needs no introduction so I will spare you the tedium and cut to the chase – what is Timequake all about? The honest answer is that I would be hard pressed to tell you given that the plot, if you can call it that, is almost non-existent. Nevertheless, here we go. On the 17th February 2001 the world experiences a timequake and the world reverts back to 1991, where they are forced to repeat the previous ten years in excruciating detail. Free-will is completely and utterly removed, nothing can be altered and no one can deviate from the ‘re-run’. Apathy naturally sets in, and even when the timequake ends people remain resigned and disengaged. It takes Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer, and his mantra “You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do” to break through.

In and amongst the ‘plot’, there are several anecdotes ruminating on the consequences of making bad choices, death and depression. There is also a blend of commentary and autobiography by Vonnegut throughout, with more unusual moments in which Vonnegut describes his conversations with the fictional Trout or his ‘future/past’ (depends which way you look at it) marriage to another (fictional) woman who was not his wife.

Whilst I appreciate that Timequake is in principle a satire of determinism and free-will, with a relatively large dose of auto-biography thrown in for good measure, I cannot appreciate the novel itself. It felt incohesive, disorientating and downright bizzare most of the time. Perhaps that is down to the fact that Vonnegut himself described Timequake as a book he had been struggling to write; he essentially took “Timequake 1” and threw in some of his own personal reflections and thoughts to create “Timequake 2″. 

Either way, I hated almost everything about this book; the plot, the style, the writing, the characters, the snippets of autobiography – you couldn’t pay me enough to suffer through it again. And as for reading something else by Vonnegut…not for a very long time!

Vintage Classics edition – ISBN 9780099267546

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4 comments

  1. I hope so! Your review reminded me how much I missed his strange plots and helpless characters.

    I really enjoy his style and humor in God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian. It’s a bizarre little book with absolutely no plot. If you want a more proper Vonnegut novel though you can’t go wrong with his most famous work: Slaughterhouse Five.

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    • I’ll be sure to have a look at God Bless you Dr. Kevorkian! It’s actually quite funny that you should recommend Slaughterhouse Five – I lived in Dresden for about 9 months and it’s the one book that was everywhere for obvious reasons, but I never got further than the blurb. Maybe this is a sign that I should give it a go – thanks for the suggestions!

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