Let's face it:
this is a minor novel by Kurt Vonnegut.
If you want to read this fellow at his vertiginous best, you better take that
Mind you - this Jailbird is still a good book.
There is a certain melancholic Shawshank Redemption-like feeling here and I've found the pages about Sacco & Vanzetti to be particularly touching and interesting. Now, that was poignant stuff.
The weather sympathized.
What you have here is a sentimental novel imbibed of heavyweight topics such as the Watergate, McCarthyism civil rights, fight against the corporations and much more.
Any other novelist would have either made a mess out of this lot or took it way too seriously (yes, Philip Roth, I'm talking to you, don't hide behind that tight miniskirt!).
Not so Kurt Vonnegut. His inimitable humour made always the difference. And is deeply missed.
Jailbird may have hazy, even blurry outlines but its core is clear and straight.
And it's this:
Today I will tell you about an interesting and unexplicably underrated semi-underground tribe: the Vonnegutians.
Either urban or rural, the Vonnegutians are spread all over the world (with primeval colonies in Indianapolis and the Galapagos islands) and cover at least three generations.
Secularists by nature, the Vonnegutians may however be inclined to join the subtropical doctrine of Bokononism at an earlier or a later stage of their lives.
Regretfully, the social behaviour of the Vonnegutians is still a mystery.
Oddballs at heart, many Vonnegutians are lonesome, romantic and slightly schizophrenic souls. These folks like to be considered outsiders and underdogs and, sometimes, join (and then abruptly desert) international fellowships of fanatic Vonnegutians known as 'karass'.
An interesting habit of the members of a karass is to call 'granfaloons' all non-Vonnegutians clubs, parties, societies, communities and religions.
How to recognise a Vonnegutian?
Well, that's incredibly easy. Just let him/her speak.
Most Vonnegutians are avid readers and share a common ground of uncommon jokes, obscure quotes, historic dates, Trafalmadorian jargon, German poetry all spiced up with a mix of sarcasm and fatalism. And so it goes.
Another way to understand if you are talking with an actual Vonnegutian is to ask him/her what their favourite book is.
Chances are the Vonnegutian will answer by mentioning one of the novels written by his/her prophet: Kurt Vonnegut Jr (KVJ).
KVJ delivering an awesome lecture in a pre-TED Vonnegutian meeting
The sub-tribe known as the 'Mother-Nighters' worship a scroll entitled 'Mother Night' and written in 1961 from KVJ.
It must be stressed out that the 'Mother-Nighters' do not represent a majority among the Vonnegutians, whose main sub-tribes are definitely the tempered 'Slaughterhouse-Fivers' and the fanatical 'Cat's Cradlers'.
However, if you will ever have the chance to meet an authentic Mother-Nighter (as your humble pen pusher, here, is), please keep calm and listen on. You won't regret it.
Nick Nolte portraying the heroic criminal and criminal hero Howard J. Campbell in the interesting 'Mother Night' movie
What? Only 7.0?
Am I sure? Did I give this rating by mistake?
Yes, yes. And no, I'm afraid.
Don't get me wrong, folks.
For The Death of Grass (aka No Blade of Grass in the US) is a good novel. Well, actually a very good novel. And I do believe that you should give this book a chance and read through it from page 1 to page 194.
It won't take that long. You won't get bored. But, nonetheless...
This book was out of print for many years, but the Penguin fellows have recently reprinted it. In a paperback edition. With a fancy gloomy cover. And even a foreword.
So, what are you waiting for?
Go and get it.
Did you know that they made a bombastic B-movie out of this novel in A.D. 1970?
Got it? Did you read it?
All very well.
Now, tell me, did you really like this?
Because I did and yet I did not.
Unlike other British sci-fi novelists (Shiel, Wyndham), the author here does a good job investigating on the psychology of the main characters, wondering about the moral dilemmas they have to face when struggling for survival.
The novel does have a slow kick off, but then it starts rolling smoothly without unnecessary detours and with a clear goal to reach: an almost mythical dale.
An Eden valley protected by a well manned and gun-machined palisade where a less wild bunch of human beings is likely to survive starvation thanks to potatoes, beetroots and unlimited fresh water supply.
The road trip of our heroes from London to the north of England, where the dale is located is hard and bleak enough, but left me with the impression that John Christopher forgot some practical details.
Right, all grasses belonging to the graminae family are suddenly dead. The soil is bare and the land is brown. And yet, what happened to the fruit trees and to the wildberries?
The death of grass struck England on springtime, but the author never mentions the possibility that people could scrap a living from fruits and berries. Where have they gone?
Or, perhaps, am I the ignorant one who needs to check if fruit trees do after all belong to the graminae family?
Then Mr. Christopher tells us that all trains stopped running. Again, why?
Does coal belong to the graminae family too? Oh wait, I bet it's just a sign (and an effect) of the social turmoil bringing England to its knees. All the same, the train empasse hasn't quite convinced me.
And don't let me even start with the way the author treats women in this novel which is backwardish even for the 1950s standards (I am Tarzan, you're Jane). The gentlemen here are either killers or rescuers. The ladies here are either damsels in distress or sexual slaves.
The fight for survival bits here are convincing enough and quite realistic in their basic roughness.
I can summarize Christopher's post-apocalyptical gatherings with a syllogism from the movie A Fistful of Dollars:
When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with a pistol will be a dead man.
Not that this fire armed philosophy happens to be very different in, say, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
At least Christopher's survivors are still able to speak proper English in all of its local and class variations. And, to me, that's a very strong point.