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Welcome to the Monkey House
I first discovered Kurt Vonnegut through Welcome to the Monkey House when I was working in America. My friend Carrie-Ann raved about the book and insisted that I read it.
Vonnegut is classified as a contemporary American writer and his style can broadly be described as an odd cross between satire and science fiction. Now I am not a science fiction fan in any shape or form, but I loved these stories and I don't think that sci-fi phobic's should be put off.
Welcome to the Monkey House is an unusual collection of around 25 wicked short stories which were first published as a collection in 1968. The stories were previously published individually in sources such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science fiction and The Atlantic Monthly. The first short story Vonnegut published is actually one of my favourites and is included in this selection. This is "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" which appeared in 1950 in the magazine Collier's.
Vonnegut's short stories primarily deal with controversial issues concerning the state of society in the future. Vonnegut has cynical but interesting views on the subject and his stories can be both funny and warm alongside serious and sad. The tales told in Welcome to the Monkey House are simply fascinating and unforgettable. In fact this is one of the few books that I have ever read twice and I absolutely love it!!!!!!
The title for the book comes from one of my favourite of the stories. In Welcome to the Monkey House we are immersed into a world of overpopulation. The Government forces the people to take pills which numb the lower halves of their bodies. The premise behind this is that as sex is no longer enjoyable then people will no longer engage in it and thus world population will decline. The people are also encouraged to visit Federal Ethical Suicide Parlours in order to voluntarily remove themselves from the over-crowded world. We then meet an underground group who refuse to take the pills and who devote their time to seducing women, taking away their pills and encouraging the revise of sexual pleasure.
Another of my favourites from this collection is entitled Harrison Bergeron. This story again focuses around a perverse future society set in 2081. This society has become obsessed with fairness and in consequence anyone possessing an unfair advantage is given a handicap to prevent them being competitive. For example, if you have exceptional intelligence you are required to wear a machine which beeps at regular intervals to prevent concentration. If you are pretty you must cover up your face and if you are graceful you must strap on bags to weigh you down.
In addition to those described in more detail above, my other favourites include: The Foster Portfolio, Report on the Barnhouse Effect and The Euphio Question. You'll have to read them yourself if you are interested in climbing further into Vonnegut's imagination!!!
Welcome to the Monkey House is a difficult book to come across in the UK and therefore I would recommend ordering in online. Amazon has the book available from around £4 excluding postage. The book is around 300 pages and the ISBN is 978-0-385-33350-4.
Welcome to the Monkey House was also adapted for radio by Mathew Needleman. A number of the stories were also televised simply as 'Monkey House' in 1993 and can be purchased from Amazon in two volumes.
I have read a number of Kurt Vonnegut's other books and in general, I highly recommend them. I particularly enjoyed Cat's Cradle (1963) and also Slaughter House Five (1969), which are widely regarded as two of his best novels. I also attempted Time Quake but sadly I didn't enjoy it and didn't finish it. Vonnegut also published a second collection of short stories called Bagombo Snuff Box, fairly recently in 1999. I have not yet had the pleasure to read this collection but given my enjoyment of Welcome to the Monkey House I would certainly be interested in doing so.
About the Author
Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1922 and he has been a prominent yet somewhat underground publisher of novels, plays and short stories for the last 50 years. He attended Cornell University to study biochemistry but then joined the army during WWII. Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Germany and he witnessed the Dresden bombings. The influence of this experience can clearly be felt within his work, particularly with Slaughter House Five. After returning from Germany he studies anthropology at the University of Chicago. His thesis was rejected but it is at this point that he began to write seriously. .
Kurt Vonnegut has seven children, four of whom he adopted and three of which are actually his niece and nephew who he adopted after the death of his sister. He currently lives with his second wife in New York City. Vonnegut's mother committed suicide while he was in his early twenties. Vonnegut himself attempted suicide in 1985 and this influence can also be seen in some of his work.
Interested parties may see Vonnegut bibliography: Kurt Vonnegut: A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa Pieratt, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz and Jerome Klinkowitz, for a complete overview of the author. Vonnegut seems to have had an interesting life and I imagine that this would be worth a read.
I love this book. It is simply wonderful. Five stars.