Friday, September 30, 2011

19 Cloud Atlas-David Mitchell

David Mitchell uses a variety of genres to portray 6 amazing story lines: diary, epistolary, mystery novel, memoir, interview, and a sort of third person limited storytelling. The variety of forms reminds me of Melville’s efforts at stylistic variety in Moby Dick. Yeah, I’ll make that comparison, deal with it.

The birthmarks on the shoulders are part of a motif connecting the stories. I found it subtle, but I understand how one could find it unnecessary. There are other gems of transitional bliss inside each story, either preceding or following. The structure is important to note; one half of each story is told in chronological order starting in the 1800’s. The sixth story takes place in a future when mankind has returned to its hunter-gatherer roots; this story is told in its entirety. The reverse order of stories unfolds as we return to the 1800’s.

“The Pacific Journal of Patrick Ewing” provides the experience of a San Francisco notary in route home from assignment. Pious and inexperienced, he contracts a sickness and a doctor friend makes efforts to preserve his life. The opening journal entry finds Doctor Goose searching for teeth on the beach (brilliant). The “eat or be eaten” theme, and the baseness of mankind are introduced subtly.

“Letters from Zedelghem” gives us a 25 year-old composer in 1931, Robert Frobisher. RF writes letters to his friend (and possible lover) Rufus Sixsmith in London. RF sends him mail from Belgium, but ended up there as a result of being down on his luck, and games of chance were the cause. As he fled his creditors in England, he decides on a whim to offer his skills at musical notation to a famous yet retired composer. Love, loss, and humor, particularly the upper class ironies Jane Austen would love, should be enjoyed here. “Her laughter spurts through a blowhole in the top of her head and sprays all over the morning.”

“The Luisa Rey Mystery” brings death to the forefront. The dangers of a nuclear power plant are revealed by the Sixsmith report, yes the same Sixsmith that received Frobisher’s letters. Keeping all parties quiet takes some murder. A page-turner, and the one story I was upset about having to wait 200 pages to learn the second half. “Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.” p.396

“The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” is the dud of the group. Connection to the Luisa Rey mystery comes through his being an editor. Somehow he gets locked away in a convalescence home. More is being said about the nature of society not respecting septuagenarians. Meh.

“Orison of Somni-451” is fucking awesome. This is a clone future in a Korea rife with genetic engineering. Movies are dubbed disneys, smart phones are sonys, and clones don’t have souls. Except for one Somni-451. She is used by a rebellion to prove the immorality of cloning. She is being interviewed before being put to death for her part in trying to overthrow the system.

“Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ ev’rythin’ after” is the story of Zachary Bailey, a native of Hawaii, the Big I. His experience as a goat herder gets interesting as his pagan god-fearing society allows a visiting anthropologist to stay for several months. Zachary is cautious of her “smart” but begins to trust her after she shares her knowledge of the world before “The Fall.” Dialectically challenging, the violent and peaceful societies on the islands would give any historian an education in atrociology.

Many of these stories could be worthwhile as novellas, but together they speak to the apocalyptic future that our way of life has in store. This has definitely moved to #1 on my list for the year. At 500 pages it was surprisingly quick, but the depths of thought ranged from life and death, philosophy to humor, and conscience to responsibility.


Brent Waggoner said...

Great review, although I love Cavendish's story. It's scary to me in a bad dream kind of way.

Fun Fact: Cloud Atlas was the book I was reading when I got the idea for 50B.

Parrish Lantern said...

Hi, I don't know if you're aware but this blog has copied a post of yours verbatim,(as well of over a dozen of mine)

Parrish Lantern said...

Parrish Lantern said...

Sorry about this but they seem to have raided yours alot

Parrish Lantern said...

Brent Waggoner said...

Thanks for the heads up, Parrish.

Parrish Lantern said...

No problem have reported them to Blogger under copyright, as have a couple of others I made aware. Still some of mine on there, but will see if the individual will see sense before I go through the process again.