David Mitchell (2004) The Cloud Atlas, Septre
Well, due to my Booker Read Marathon, I have not reviewed any books on this blog for quite some time. But, this month I took a break from my Booker read, and, influenced by Jenny Colvin Reading Envy and my friends on the The Sword and Laser (goodreads) reading group, I read this book. I am glad that I did.
This book has several, seemingly unlinked or loosely linked, strands. The segments of each strand are interspersed throughout the book. The stories are subtly linked and the connections between the tales are uncovered throughout the work. But, in many ways, they remain separate ‘artifacts’, retaining their own sense of uniqueness.
The first stream entitled “the Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing’, which reminded me of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Mieville’s ‘Moby Dick’, is the story of an explorer ‘Adam Ewing’ and ‘Dr Henry Goose’ who meet on an island and join the crew of a ship. You follow their journey, explore their relationships and find stories within this world. While the second Stream ‘Letters from Zedelghem’ revolves around a failed musician/composer/human being who manages to wheedle his way into the household of a retired, hermit, composer. Both of these are set in a Victorian world and they are written in an appropriate style. They mirror the romantic style of the period.
The third strand ‘Half Lives; The first Louis Rey Mystery’ is the story of journalists, detectives, and scientists. It mirrors the writing of Noir crime mysteries. Once again, the writing mirrors the genres on which it is based. But, I find this writing style irritating and therefore, for me, this was the weakest story within the work.
The fourth strand ‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’ tells the story of a hack publisher who actually manages to publish a hit. This strand was reminiscent of the works of Eighties/nineties authors such as Martim Amis (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/11337.Martin_Amis) and Will Self http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13794.Will_Self . It has a comic/farcical tone and plot. The characters, both Timothy Cavendish and other supporting players, are well drawn. The story works well as a stand alone story while contributing to the whole story arc.
The fifth ‘an Orison of Sonnit’, which is set in a futuristic world, centers on the experiences of a ‘soulless being’ who has been created to serve, as a sort of lifeless slave, in a fast food restaurant and soon learns that he can be greater than his programming. The story portrays a chilling world in which; one sector of society has been created to serve another, in which one class oppresses the other and in which that oppression has been naturalised.
Another strand, ‘Sloosha’s crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin After’ involves a post apocalyptic world and an anthropologist who is visiting from another planet. This book is the hardest read. This world has been destroyed and their civilization is very different from our own. Their language mirrors this difference. Words are continually abbreviated and the sentence structure differs from standard usage. But, it’s probably the most satisfying read of the book. It raises some interesting points about civilization, identity, Cultural anthropology and the stories that we tell ourselves in order to understand our world.
I liked some of the strands better than others. But, the writer seems to have worked really hard to ensure that the language fits the setting. I thought that the third strand was relatively weak and was tempted to skip the section. I really liked the futuristic strand ‘An Orison of Sonni’, finding that the central character was captivating. I really liked his voice. I thought that the central ideas within this strand, i.e. Identity, and civilization were fascinating. I thought that the world, created within this strand, was chilling. I thought that the post apocalyptic strand ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Everythin’ After’ worked really well and once again the issues addressed/the world created were fascinating and chilling. I am not sure if this book works as a whole. But, it is an interesting read.