First Impressions – ‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller

Author: Joseph Heller
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Novel, Satire, War story, Historical Fiction, Dark comedy, Humorous Fiction, Absurdist fiction
Publisher: Vintage (Random House Group)
Publication date: 1961

Let me just say this so that you know whether you like me enough to continue reading or not – I didn’t get this book.

I really tried. But I didn’t get this book.

This book is in the list of ‘Top 100 must read books of all time’ by Penguin Publishes, and comes 33. Do I agree with it? I don’t know, because I don’t think I’m smart enough to get this book.

It’s the story set in world war 2, following a bunch of United States soldiers who have set base in a fictional island off the coast of Italy. The war makes no sense to them, but their higher ranking officers’ orders makes even less sense to them. They can’t leave, don’t have a way to go back, and run around in circles as their life decisions are determined and overruled by ‘Catch 22’ – a rule whose clause negates the execution of the rule itself, to put it quite simply. The original catch 22 is that a soldier who requests a mental fitness evaluation in order to be dismissed on grounds of mental instability is mentally stable enough to know that he requires a mental fitness evaluation, and therefore cannot be dismissed.

The story is sprinkled with such Catch 22s, with each chapter presenting a new take on Catch 22. Each chapter, in my opinion, also proceeds to go around in circles, brushing over the same point over and over again, only to revisit the point in the next chapters through the eyes of other characters. I wasn’t quite sure where the book – or I – was going, and it didn’t do a lot for me by way of relaxation.

Honestly, this book gave me serious FOMO – I’ve heard so much about this book that I bought it years ago, and circumstances made me wait until now to read, and reading it… Just wasn’t it. Initially I thought I was being too impatient, but each chapter left me more confused than the last.

This is a lot shorter than most of my first impressions, as I don’t have a much of a first impression here, I’d say, apart from being confused with the plot and a bit let down with my inability to enjoy the satire that has shaped generations. Hopefully, one day, someday soon, I’ll be able to read it. But, as of now, it’s going back onto the shelf.

First Impression: Characters and plot development going in full circles every chapter. Slow forward movement. Didn’t really get it.

My recommendation: If you’re into war tragedy disguised as satirical war comedy, and are blessed with an abundance of patience and good humour, this is for you? I’m not sure who to recommend this to. But I hope to enjoy this one day more than I do now.

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