“We are only healthy to the extent that our ideas are humane” – Breakfast of Champions
Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Breakfast of Champions is a strange and amusing book. Indeed, the above quotation appears on the tombstone of its protagonist, Kilgore Trout. Trout is a science fiction writer, who, Vonnegut informs us, knows very little about science. Trout’s stories are published in the inopportune places, most notably pornography magazines. Breakfast of Champions is about Trout’s encounter with an affluent car salesman named Dwayne Hoover. Through one of his novels, Trout manages to convince Hoover that he is the sole human being on a planet populated by robots, causing Hoover to embark on a killing spree.
Although this brief synopsis may suggest that Breakfast of Champions is absurd and perhaps not worth perusing, I beg to differ. It was one of the most entertaining books I read in a long time. Vonnegut is a master storyteller. In adopting an objective and anthropological approach to human behaviour he manages to demonstrate that we are, in fact, completely insignificant as a species and our struggle for survival on this small planet should not be taken too seriously. However, despite his jesting, Vonnegut trivialises very little. Breakfast of Champions is full of social commentary concerning the futility and cruel nature of conflict. Vonnegut also uses an interesting narrative technique. He himself features in the novel and interacts with some of the characters he has created. Vonnegut also provides amusing illustrations throughout.
I read Breakfast of Champions during a rare window of time in which I was free from commitments. I travelled a little and basked in the pleasures of experiencing literature with an undistracted mind. To mark the end of this period of liberty I went to stay near London for a couple of days and cycled to The White Cross in Richmond for lunch. Late summer Sunday afternoons by a river with burgers and beer are pretty hard to beat.