Thursday, November 06, 2008

Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

"As many truths as men. Occasionally, I glimpse a truer Truth, hiding in imperfect simulacrums of itself, but as I approach, it bestirs itself & moves deeper into the thorny swamp of dissent."

An adventurer crossing the Pacific; a down and out composer taken advantage of in Belgium; a journalist risking it all to expose corruption in California; a publisher sentenced to a rest home again his will; a fabricant waitress escaping her "reward" for services rendered; a child witnessing the end of it all in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. These six stories intertwine and echo one another to create a story that transcends language and time to reveal how human ambition and progress can be wonderful yet dangerous.

The Good:

This book has been described as a series of Russian dolls, one inside another, revealing more depth and complexity with each story but I prefer to think of it more as a Mobius strip or a mirror reflecting another mirror. It's an ambitious book that requires more than one read to fully appreciate the time and detail put into the stories.

One reason this book works so well is the use of language. The six stories are set in different time periods and this is evident through sentence structure, diction and slang. For example, Adam Ewing's journal uses very archaic language while the Orison of Sonmi-451 is peppered with slang and shows an evolved language where people say "xperienced" and "xpected". These differences help to ground the reader and show the passage of time.

We also get to see Mitchell's diversity when it comes to writing styles. In this book we have several forms jockeying for attention. There's a travel journal, a series of letters, a memoir, an interview, etc.

Also, one of the great things about this book is that the stories can be read as stand alones. While they are interconnected they are also fully contained and are interesting to read on their own.

The Bad:

This is also the ultimate flaw with the book. Some stories worked and resonated more than others but the connection Mitchell tries to draw between stories and characters at times feels contrived. At times it felt that they were held together by the merest of threads, that Mitchell was trying too hard to make a good work into a great work. This can make the attempt come off as pompous, as if there's too much self-awareness about what he's written.

As well, while the archaic style and diction in the first story lended itself to the believability of the plot it was also extremely frustrating. I kept running into unfamiliar words or convoluted sentences in want of editing.

The Ugly:

Somebody find Eli Wallach.

Rating: 4/5

1 comment:

Infrared building surveys said...

Cloud Atlas was the most thought-provoking novel I've read in years and I found myself meditating on the lives of the characters long after I'd put it down and moved onto something else. Extraordinary work.