03
Aug
10

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Apparently this book came out in 2004, and I overlooked it somehow. Just read it; it’s fantastic. Interestingly, today I read an issue of the New Yorker from a few weeks ago in which they’re reviewing David Mitchell’s newest novel, a review which includes a fair bit of discussion of Cloud Atlas itself.

“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw; if we believe diverse races & creeds can share can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”

While this may seem to read more like sermon than novel, and drive many away from reading the book, please don’t let it. It’s from the ending of a series of 6 stories, told in arch form: each of the first 5 stories told approximately half way, leading in various inter-connected ways from one to the other. That is: the main character of the 2nd story encounters the diary which constitutes the first; the character of the 3rd story finds the letters which constitute the 2nd; in the 4th story the 3rd story is revealed to be a work of fiction, etc. After the 6th story is told in “completion” (nothing in these stories is really complete), the arch is completed in reverse.

Even more interestingly each story leads existentially to the next. A common theme seems to be the result of man’s inability to recognize their responsibility towards each other and their planet; the result of, well, the fact that many members of the human species fail to act all that humanely (although I did find the Timothy Cavendish chapters to be the weakest, both novelistically and thematically, and could have done without them altogether);. One of the chapters is believed to have influenced Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go — another novel I highly recommend.

Mitchell’s writing is virtuosic without being self-conscious. He adopts myriad voices like a master ventriloquist — 18th-century notary, 20th-century dissolute composer, late 20th-century female journalist, sometime-in-the-future Asian “fabricant” clone/savior, sometime-far-in-the-future Pacific-island teenager.

I’m reading Black Swan Green next.

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