[Review] Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors that has made enough of a name for himself that he scares people away. I’ve encountered many people who have never read Vonnegut because they thought he was too “heavy” and “literary” to read.

The funny thing about this, is that Vonnegut generally writes books that are very readable. Granted, there is a depth to his work and usually some kind of humanitarian message, but it’s usually presented in a very readable, and oftentimes humorous, fashion.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut is one of those eminently readable books, and in my opinion, one of the best of Vonnegut’s works.

The Story

The story is about Rabo Karabekian, an abstract expressionist artist somewhat akin to Jackson Pollack. We first meet Rabo as he is getting on in the years and is living with his friend Paul Slazinger along with his collection of abstract expressionist art that he’s collected along his life.

Enter Circe Berman, a free-spirited author who challenges Rabo and turns his life upside down a bit. The greatest thing that Circe does for the reader is convince Rabo to write his autobiography, which is what the remainder of the book consists of.

In true Vonnegut style, we flash between past and present as we learn about Rabo’s life growing up at the same time we see him dealing with Circe and his life as it is now.

Art and Character

The two most enjoyable aspects of Bluebeard are the characters in the book and the art that they create. Rabo himself evolves as a character during the novel, and watching this evolution is most of the fun of the book. He goes from a child to a teenager apprentice, to a soldier, to a middle aged artist, and then finally to the cranky old man we meet at the beginning of the book.

Each station in his life is interesting to watch. One of the scenes (or series of scenes) that really sticks with me is when Rabo is apprenticed to an artist named Dan Gregory. Mr. Gregory really didn’t want to have an apprentice, so in an effort to make Rabo go away, he forces him to draw a room in his house down to the most miniscule detail. Each time Rabo does, Dan Gregory finds some fault with it, and tells Rabo he has to do it again. The irony of this is that Rabo does it again and and again, each time doing better and becoming a better artist along the way.

The art that is created along the way is also very interesting. Though much of the book actually dals with more “concrete” art (such as the drawings of Dan Gregory’s room), many parts of the book revolve around abstract art. One of the pieces described is a large set of three huge canvases that are all painted one color. I’ve never really understood abstract art myself, but there is a good explanation that Rabo gives during the course of the book. I won’t say specifically what it is here, as it is one of the more poignant scenes of the book, but it makes sense when it’s all said and done.

I highly recommend Bluebeard to pretty much anyone who reads. I know Kurt Vonnegut is known for his “science fiction” type works, but there is nothing of that in this book. It is as down to Earth as books can get, and it has affected me in different ways each time I’ve read it.


Grade: A
Who would like this book: Anyone looking for a good read with great characters
Who would not like this book: Only people afraid to read it because they are scared off by the author’s name

One thought on “[Review] Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: January 10, 2009 at Semicolon

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