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5 Books like Catch-22: A Brain-Freezing Satire

Kedar Prasana itcherIf you are a fan of satire and whimsical writing, the following books like ‘Catch-22’ will surely stoke your interest. So, spot them, grab them and read them, for you will never be disappointed. And, the list goes like: ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, ‘The Dharma Bums’, ‘The Third Policeman’, and ‘Nightmare Alley’. ~ Kedar Prasana

You Won’t Escape This Maze!

He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt…

Joseph Heller, before publishing ‘Catch-22’, had never published a thing – not a short story, not a poem, not an essay, let alone a novel.

‘Catch-22’ came as a revelation to him, and within months of getting it published, he became one of the most popular American novelists of the time. The story is mainly about the lunatic expeditions of an American troop in wartime Italy, at the conclusion of World War II.

What made Heller a literary genius was his ability to capture the essence of his thoughts in the wittiest and darkest of humorous tones. To enjoy a book like ‘Catch-22’, you will, however, be required to devote your undivided attention. But rest assured, you won’t regret a minute you spend with Captain Yossarian and the ramblings of his war-deluded mind.


Books Similar to ‘Catch-22’…

‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ (Thomas Pynchon, 1973)

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What is the real nature of control?

Thomas Pynchon, much like Heller, is a quirky writer. Along with writing some mind-blowing novels, he is also notorious for not having been photographed even once in his adult life!

‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, the winner of National Prize, is a tome that you would need serious conviction to read through. It is about cold war, maddened scientists, unsolvable problems and hair-raising paradoxes. In short, it is similar to ‘Catch-22’ on many counts.

Similarity Match: 90%
While ‘Catch-22’ deals with the on-field wartime action, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ concerns itself more about the action in the wings. Both are hugely entertaining and satirical, to say the least.

‘Slaughterhouse Five’ (Kurt Vonnegut, 1969)

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So it goes. So it goes…

This is a rather obvious selection. But it would be too improper to exclude this one because, for many readers, ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ reads much like ‘Catch-22’.

The Second World War is raging and all the action finally gets to a simple army recruit, Billy Pilgrim, who has ostentatiously ‘come unstuck in time’, driving him over the cliff and into the schism of madness. What follows is a page-after-page of inane text that only makes sense when you reach the last page. Sounds like ‘Catch-22’, doesn’t it?

Similarity Match: 85%
The stark difference between these two books is that ‘Catch-22’ explores a world of philosophical ideas through deluded narratives, while ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ sticks to the basic carnality of it all. But in tone and humour, they might as well be two parts of a duology.

‘The Dharma Bums’ (Jack Kerouac, 1958)
Neal Stephenson book

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Who can leap the world’s ties and sit with me among white clouds?

The only reason to include ‘The Dharma Bums’ in this list is that it features a protagonist whose mind is muddled out of context and proportions to such a high degree that he believes he’s living two lives at the same time.

‘The Dharma Bums’, for many, came as a minor literary blip from Kerouac after the immense success of ‘On the Road’. However, upon close inspection, it’s clear that if Kerouac ever wrote a biography, this would be it.

Similarity Match: 80%
‘The Dharma Bums’ has practically nothing to do with war. The alter-ego of Kerouac, Ray Smith, however is at war with himself and his comic pain isn’t far too different from Captain Yossarian’s.


If You Like ‘Catch-22’, You Will Like…

Grappling with insanity is not really a mock-worthy aspect of life. However, if handled in perfect measure, black humour can be a potent weapon to convey these emotions, as these books like ‘Catch-22’ prove.

Also, this is the point where ‘satire’ aspect will be held central, deviating from the themes like war and violence.

‘The Third Policeman’ (Flann O’Brien, 1967)

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What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness…

On the sheer count of being quirkily funny and pleasantly uncouth, ‘The Third Policeman’ by Flann O’Brien has set a benchmark for the ‘cool’.

If you are diving into this book looking for a story, be warned, for disappointment awaits you. This is a book of ramblings of a robber and an investigator. The discussion touches upon everything from the depths of the atoms to nature of sexual intercourse.

Use of typical Irish slang is quite common in ‘The Third Policeman’. Apart from that, the absence of a single reliable narrator makes it quite similar to ‘Catch-22’.

‘Nightmare Alley’ (William Lindsay Gresham, 1946)

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Nothing matters in this goddamned lunatic asylum of a world but dough…

Through ‘Nightmare Alley’, Gresham gave us the word ‘geek’. This is a thoroughly entertaining read that recounts the life about a travelling freak show. The story keeps on getting weirder and weirder until it bursts out into a climax that will leave you stupefied.

Along the way, it tries to make sense of the world and the very concept of ‘being mad’, just like ‘Catch-22’.

‘Nightmare Alley’ is much more prosaic than ‘Catch-22’. But in all fairness, both of them share a central theme of whim, while being extremely entertaining.


A Loon on the Moon

So, if you are ready to offer an ear to the ideas that emanate straight from the twilight of sanity, you will enjoy the books like ‘Catch-22’ that have been listed above. If you are a ravenous reader, you might also like reading all of Samuel Beckett’s works (novels), ‘Pale Fire’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’.

All of your suggestions, comments, feedback and remarks are looked forward to quite dearly.

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