book-reviews

Mother Night

by Kurt Vonnegut

Rating: ★★★★

If you were the voice of evil, would you know? I mean, sure, you'd have some idea that things you were being told to say weren't strictly true -- you don't get them over the radio via a stirring, authoritative voice, you get them handed to you on a grubby bit of paper, perhaps with overt corrections of the facts visible amidst the smudges. You know there are lies. But there is a war on. Appearances must be maintained. The people who got you this job, the people you work with, are not bad people, on the whole. They have made you welcome, and that deserves a little trust. You just focus on what is good in your life -- your wife, your art. Surely propaganda like this does not carry any actual power out there in the world.

Darkness is comforting. When you type blindly, you don't see the errors to be frustrated by them, you only feel them, the mis-pressed key jarring itself back up through your finger and into your brain. I have not experienced headphones capable of blocking out the sound of my own voice; perhaps it isn't possible, given how close my mouth is to my head, and the way vibrations travel through bone. Speaking into the radio must be the closest thing a person can have to it. The effect is broken for modern radio hosts by the phone-in, the word from the man on the street, butting in tonelessly to jar your composition. For a man speaking to those who can't ring in, who can't ''let us know what you're thinking'', who are dwelling on different streets altogether to those the speaker walks down, the isolation must be so calming. There is no feedback until the war is over.

Vonnegut was nearly burnt alive by American and British bombers committing act of terrorism. It's a good thing they won the war. It might have been a crime.

Can you spot an evil man? Perhaps if you were to speak with them for a short while, you might get a chill, a sense of something being wrong. A debate might get them to expose a view, a perspective you could pin down. Surely. Their internal narrative must be flawed, warped somehow by the things they have been told. Perhaps you should read this book.