‘For war there is always enough. It’s peace that’s expensive….’
Joseph Heller’s seminal anti-war novel Catch-22 is probably my favourite ever book. It’s hilarious, intelligent and salient beyond belief and in Yossarian it contains one of literature’s most iconic characters. The problem with resurrecting Yossarian over thirty years on from his first appearance is that it is impossible to match reader expectation. What is possible is perhaps capturing a vial of the magic dust that permeated the original to at least render the new work satisfying. Closing Time has snatches of brilliance but mostly it struggles to justify its existence.
Against seemingly insurmountable odds, WWII veteran Yossarian has survived, not just the war, but everything that came after it, to become a wealthy businessman. The issue here is that I don’t recognise this version of Yossarian. Just as 2018’s Laurie Strode shares little DNA with her 1978 incarnation, Yossarian as an elder statesmen just doesn’t tally with the establishment baiting lunatic we meet in Catch-22. As well as this, Heller often revisits moments from the first novel but instead of reflecting upon them, he merely repeats them again in a ‘remember when this happened’ style. As a result of this, large parts of the novel feel repetitive and tedious. Repetitive and tedious. Repetitive and tedious.
Heller still has a keen eye for satire and the subplot about a huge wedding set within a sleazy New York bus depot is an interesting one, but, actually, the novels best moments come when focusing on new characters, rather than those originally stationed in Pianosa. Sammy Singer and Lew Rabinowitz provide Closing Time‘s best moments and it is their ponderings on life and mortality that are the highlights of Heller’s sequel.
In the end, whilst Closing Time has its moments, it doesn’t even catch a suntan from the all-conquering glow that emanates from Catch-22. Read the source material instead. Then treat yourself and read it again.