Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Cloud Atlas”

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #36, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.” -David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

I began a book over a month ago that has been kicking my ass every day since I opened it. You can find the review for that book here, but in the meantime suffice it to say it is about war, and it broke my heart on every page, with every paragraph. It was in the middle of reading this book that I began Cloud Atlas. 

I had no reason for doing so, other than the fact that I wanted to see the movie, and I needed a break from reading about the relentless horrors of war. But what I found in it surprised me: in reading Cloud Atlas, I found a reason to keep reading.

You wouldn’t think I would need a reason. In case I haven’t made it clear, I love books. I don’t love them like I love movies – I love them like I love people. They have the ability to reinforce me or to completely wreck me in the exact same way as people do (sometimes, if I’m honest, even more – I don’t put up the same defenses against books that I do with people). Nonetheless, despite loving books like I do members of my family, there are times in life when I cannot read them. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while, when life seems too daunting, when there is too much pain right in front of me to risk encountering even more fictional pain, I stop reading.

When this happens next time, I am going to force myself to pick up Cloud Atlas. Because above all other things – above the lyrical prose, the brilliant structure, the clever pacing and the sheer epicness of the plot – Cloud Atlas is primarily a defense in reading. And not only reading, but connecting.

Society’s compulsion for fiction can be boiled down to one simple factor: the need to connect. Fiction offers a chance to connect – to people, periods and places – that you don’t need social skills, plane tickets, or a time machine to access. If you are reading this, a blog about writing about reading, chances are it’s because somewhere along the way you read something and felt immediate recognition: I get that. I’ve felt that. And now I know someone else does too.

The way in which Cloud Atlas speaks to this human impulse to connect is nothing short of brilliant, truly. He meticulously lays out each character’s story and then transitions abruptly halfway through to another story. What ties them all together is that each of these stories has some connection to the other. A composer from the 1940s reads the journals of an American notary from a century before. A journalist later stumbles across this same composer’s letters. That journalist’s story is turned into a manuscript, read by a publisher, whose story in turn is made into a movie. That movie is viewed by a slave far in the future, who is later deified by a people even farther into the future, after the world has burned itself down and restarted from scratch. All these connection points throughout history combine to make one point: you are not alone. Yes, you – the one reading this. You are not alone. You are part of something.

As it turns out, this is a message I needed to hear. It’s a curious thing, but it is usually when I want to be alone most that I most need the kind of connection that books offer. Because while a book can be many things – a temporary escape (“Books don’t offer real escape, but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw.” ), a journey (“…there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some.”), an attempt to give voice to the ineffable (“What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”) or to get at an unreachable truth (“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.”), a chance to daydream (“. . .my dreams are the single unpredictable factor in my zoned days and nights. Nobody allots them, or censors them. Dreams are all I have ever truly owned.”) – above anything else, a book is just a steadily beating reminder that we aren’t alone here. That life isn’t a monologue, but a grand, chaotic ensemble show. That even the worst can be borne, if it comes with the knowledge that someone, somewhere – no matter how far removed they are from us – has borne it as well.

After reading this novel, I kind of wished I had left it to the end of Cannonball Read. It would have been such a fitting end to a year of reading, and writing about reading, to review a book that is essentially one long argument for the kind of pure, human connection that books offer. But as it turns out, now was when I needed it. Now, when my former home is tearing itself apart in the most senseless of conflicts. Now, when my current home is continues to ignore the massive, irreparable effects its decade-long war is having on a generation of men and women in favor of parsing the sexual conduct of one of its generals. Now, when war and rape seem to have joined the list of certainties formerly only occupied by death and taxes. Now, when I am just really fucking tired.

At the end of the day, a book is just a collection of words. But each of those words contain multitudes – enough to harm or to heal, to destroy or to rebuild. It can be a place to have your heart broken, or a place to recover. And sometimes, it can even be both.

Recommended For: Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I can’t imagine there’s anyone who wouldn’t like this book, is what I’m saying.

Read When: Anytime, but the more burnt out you are, the better

Listen With: Conveniently, it’s got its own score.

ElLCoolJ’s #CBR4 review #5: Cloud Atlas: David Mitchell

ElLCoolJ’s #CBR4 review #5: Cloud Atlas: David Mitchell

Every so often Hollywood takes a great piece of literature and makes a movie or TV show out of it. A byproduct of this is that it makes some people, like yours truly, want to go read the original text before beginning to watch. Take Game of Thrones for example. It is a runaway hit for a network I don’t get to watch, so I am resigned to watching it on disk at my own time frame. I decided to read the book first, so I went to my library, waited my turn for a copy of the super popular book to come in and started reading. I got 30 pages into Game of Thrones before I returned it to the library, bored out of my skull.

Compare this with when I read Cloud Atlas. I read a review of the movie that made the book sound very intriguing, so I got on the library wait list. When I got my copy I dove in, but only got 1/3 of the way through before I had to return it to the library. Knowing that I was going to 25th on the wait list I decided to go purchase it (from my local book store… buy local) and could not have been happier. It is a book that I am proud to own and will lend to all my friends until they have all had a chance to delve into the mastery that Mitchell shares with us.

By now you know the basic storyline, so I won’t spend too much time reviewing what happens. I will also keep this basically spoiler free, or as best as I can do. This event (I feel bad calling it mere book or story) is six individual stories nestled together. The first takes place on a 18th c sailing vessel in the South Pacific. The second is a failed composer in  post Great War Europe. The third is a hard boiled investigative journalist in sunny California in the 1970’s. Next comes the contemporary geriatrics in England. Then comes the futuristic Korean society with human clones. And finally the post apocalyptic Hawaii. Well that’s not entirely all. Each story is only HALF the story and then after the post apocalyptic tale comes the conclusion of the Korean clones, the aged Brits, the muckraking Californian, the broken down composer and then the story ends with the salvation of the sailor.

Mitchell himself wrote, as the composer describing his latest piece:

Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year’s fragments into a “sextet for overlapping soloists”: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe and violin, each in it’s own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by it’s successor, in the second each interruption is recontinued  in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s finished and by then it’ll be too late, but it’s the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last I think of before I fall asleep…

Mitchell is describing not just the epic musical piece, to be called “Cloud Atlas”, but also his own story. Yes it’s a bit gimmicky, but BLAM does it ever work!!! I was thinking of it when I woke and when I went to sleep.

Each story is indeed in it’s own voice. The change in language from the High-Formal gentleman speak of the 19th century learned men to the pigeon-English of the postapocalyptic is outstanding. As each new tale began it took a bit to get used to the style of writing and the patter of speech. I found myself annoyed a number of times at the start of a new section because it wasn’t as good as the past section…until a few pages later when I didn’t want to put it down. And then I got upset when the next section began because it couldn’t hold a candle to the previous section, until it blew it away with its’ own mastery. On the descent (as I am calling the second half of each story) I ripped through them knowing how good they were. It felt like seeing an old friend again.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical on the way up. I was really enjoying the variety of language, the interesting story lines, and navigating the structural changes. There were some connections between the stories, but not really. Then on the way down, it all fell in to place. Starting with the conclusion of the Korean sci-fi I realized that Mitchell was not just talking about this story, but explaining parts of the postapocalyptic plots, as well as making direct references to themes from other stories. The next and next and next story kept opening up and opening more themes that I had not realized were there the whole time. I had to go back and check earlier sections to prove to myself that those clues were really there. (It was not unlike LOST with clues hidden way back).

I got goosebumps when I finished the second to last section when I realized what a genius Mitchell is with this book. He cleverly wove strands of what it is to be human throughout all the stories, from the savage South Pacific Islanders to the corporate CEO’s to the human fabricants in a futuristic society and back to primitive beings after the fall of civilization. What is our role here during our brief sojourn on this planet? How can the actions of one person impact those of future generations. Mitchell has one character write “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson (his son) to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living. ”

Not all of the sections are equal. My favorite world that he shared with us was the Korean-sci fi.The 1970’s was the most pedestrian  but it was still very interesting and captivating. On the way back down each story took turns that I did not see happening which shifted my preconceived perception of each of the plot-lines (also like LOST).

I give this book a “one of the best I have ever read” ranking. I could not put it down and really enjoyed the world he created. I have decided NOT to see the movie, my original impetus to reading the book, because I don’t want to lose his world as I see it in my mind. Read and enjoy.



Doctor Controversy’s CBR4 Review #4: “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell

File this one under “Read Before You See the Movie”.  A brilliant, vibrant trip through time and humanity.

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #17: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is a long book, and I’ve spent a lot of time with it over the last weeks, so it’s only natural that I should be a bit obsessed with it now, 5 minutes after finishing it. But it’s more than that. It made me see history and humanity in a new light. It made me want to read moremoremore of it. It made me think about how I had seen this book on the library shelf for years, without knowing ALL THIS was in it. Why didn’t I pick it up earlier?

Having read Jacob de Zoet, I knew what to expect from Mitchell’s writing, but I wasn’t prepared for the scope of Cloud Atlas. In six individual stories, it spans centuries. Starting from the 19th century in the South Pacific to the (likely) end of Civilisation in Hawaii after a nuclear holocaust, the vastly differing styles of texts and writing are connected only by their narrators’ passing reference to the story before, and their subject of power and humanity. All this sounds quite abstract, but there is no other way of putting it without giving too much away.

On a literary level, the differences in style made it difficult for me at first. Each narrative is beautifullly crafted in itself, but the abrupt endings confuse – and are meant to. It was interesting, and not altogether surprising, to see which style and setting I was more comfortable with. Those parts set in the past won me over immediately, whereas the two chapters set in 1970s California and present-day Britain were (and are) my least favourites. The big surprise for me was that I was blown away by the more sci-fi chapters set in an unspecified future. This is a genre I would never choose to read, but I enjoyed it a lot. The most powerful account, in my opinion, is that of Zachry, who witnesses humanity’s last bastion in Hawaii being blown to bits by barbaric tribes. It forms both the end of the timeline and the middle of the book, which then brings all the stories full circle. Going back from the depressing end of civilisation to the equally barbaric deeds of our own forefathers makes for a clever literary device as well as for enlightened reading. Mitchell is a master of language, and all of Cloud Atlas is fictional and, as such, highly manipulative. But for most people, it will simply ring true. There is a hell of a lot of stuff to ponder in this book, and Mitchell is not afraid to put things up for discussion that influence the fate of humanity, i.e. the lust for power, compassion, barbarism and guilt. Although most of the characters in the novel at some point mention those subjects openly, it never feels as if Mitchell is hammering them home. His different narrators are too well constructed to be mere opinion-makers.

Cloud Atlas is one of those books that makes me want to be a better person. I adored it on a literary level just as much as I agree with the sentiments the characters expressed. I want to buy several pretty copies of it and place them all over the house, just so I don’t forget about the experience of holding this book. And most of all, I do NOT want to see the movie, because the pictures I have in my head are far, far prettier than that picture of Tom Hanks with stuff on his face.

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 23 #Cloud Atlas by #David Mitchell

As I write this the eagerly anticipated Wachowski siblings/Tom Tykwer film version of David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas, is still two weeks from premiering.  As such the book has only a precious few more days where it can stand on it’s own and escape comparison with the movie. A hoary old cliche in film criticism is “The book was better .” There are scant few books where the film IS better, and that list is very subjective. My personal list would include Jaws, Fight Club, Silence of the Lambs, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner). It’s not that these novels are bad, most are quite good, but the movies do a better job thematically condensing the same material and making for a more intense and emotional experience.  Without having seen the movie, I have a feeling Cloud Atlas is going to fall in to that grouping as well.

Cloud Atlas is an easy book to admire and an enjoyable read, but it’s hard to love it. The six stories that make up the book are not so much interlocked as they are chained together. It begins in the 1800’s on a voyage from New Zealand to San Francisco. Midway through the story the narrative ends abruptly, literally in the middle of a sentence. The next story begins immediately. It is an epistolary using only the letters of a young composer in the 1930’s, Robert Frobisher,  to his friend Rufus Sixsmith. In the letters he mentions finding half of a diary in the home of a famous composer named Ayrs that he has taken a job with. Frobisher, while in an affair with Ayrs’ wife,  becomes obsessed with completing a piece he has called the Cloud Atlas Sextet. From there the book moves to 1979 and a young reporter, Luisa Rey, is investigating safety violations at a nuclear reactor. Her primary source is Rufus Sixsmith. After he is murdered she discovers the letters from Robert Frobisher, and becomes intrigued by the Cloud Atlas Sextet and tries to track it down. This continues to the story of a publisher held against his will in a sinister senior home, a clone in a corporate run future Korea giving a visual affidavit for her part in a revolution, and finally to a far flung future Hawaii where human kind has reverted back to savage and warring tribes after a never explained “Fall”.

Got all that?

The biggest handicap of the book is also it’s greatest gimmick. The first 5 stories are all begun and take up about 30-40 pages before breaking off and starting the next one. The final story, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” is told in its entirety and then each story is finished in reverse order, ending with the last half of the diary. The problem with this device is that it is difficult to get invested in the characters and what is happening to them. There are hints that these people in each different time are reincarnations of the previous characters. Locations overlap, scenes have echos from story to story, but its never exactly clear what the connections are supposed to be inferred. The last half of the book arrives in a rush as the loop is closed on each story one by one. As the individual narratives end each character finds the missing piece of the next adjoining narrative and ends their tale by watching or reading the next story in the sequence.

By the end there is some expectation of an event that is going to tie the whole thing together. However, as opposed to a narrative finale, Mitchell instead focuses on a thematic one. There are multiple themes that interlock the 6 stories, but the primary one is that in all of these stories a visitor is saved by a native. Each story features a villain who uses their powers, whether they are monetary or authoritarian, to subjugate other characters through violence or subterfuge. Ultimately, Cloud Atlas seems to say that across times and lives the struggle against tyranny in all forms is a human constant. Where the novel falters is in making an impact on the reader when that tyranny overwhelms the heroes. Instead of being emotionally involved I found myself trying to see the narrative tie to what came before and after. Quite honestly this is more of a criticism on me as the reader than on Mitchell. I don’t think he ever set out to tell a “tie every bow” interlocked story but to express a philosophy and use 6 separate stories to underline the similarities between them all.

Structurally, the book runs in to trouble by mixing “reality” with “fiction”. When it is revealed that the publisher is reading a novel about Luisa Rey it calls in to question the reincarnation element in the book. How can a fictional character be the reincarnation of a real one? One theory I have is that this is not about reincarnated souls, but archetypes. Each of the 6 stories is wildly different in setting and tone. A story of treachery on the high seas, a drawing room drama, a corporate corruption thriller, a comedic farce, a science fiction story, and finally the post apocalyptic adventure. Yet each of these characters at the center all share a narrative similarity. These are all strangers in strange lands. Is Mitchell really commenting on the recycled nature of characters in all levels of fiction? That each genre, no matter how maligned, can still be “literature” and all fiction is really telling the same, hopeful story of good triumphing over evil? Cloud Atlas doesn’t really lend itself one way or the other but I think it’s a viable theory.

Cloud Atlas is a dazzling achievement that just doesn’t quite bring the lofty themes and ambitious devices together. Still, I highly recommend it, as there are very few novels quite like it. What you get out of it is likely going to be subjective from reader to reader. This is a very complex book and more schooled readers of literature than myself will likely hit on things I didn’t grasp the first time through. For instance the number 6 in multiple variants repeats over and over throughout the novel. Is this a biblical reference to Genesis and the mythological 6 days it took to create the cosmos? Maybe. I’m sure a second read through will reveal even more connections and thematic ties.

The core of Cloud Atlas is solid and the stories are entertaining but the emotional element was lacking for me. It is for that reason I can’t wait to see how they adapted the book to film and if the filmmakers were able to nail the emotional component while preserving the thematic elements. I’m hopeful that not only will Tykwer and the Wachowskis dazzle us with the narrative acrobats but they will also stick the landing taking Cloud Atlas from a good adaptation to a classic.

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #1 – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell

About the only review I’ve ever read for Cloud Atlas that I now know comes close to doing it justice is a tweet from Ayelet Waldman, which I must paraphrase for it was a while ago: “I wish I could re-experience the feeling of reading Cloud Atlas for the first time.” The first time blows your damn mind; the first time is what you hope will be the first of many times. I honestly don’t remember when a book last made me want to start at the beginning immediately after finishing its last page. I will likely be one of the many people who feel they lack the adequate vocabulary to concisely encapsulate this book, but oh, I’ll certainly ramble on and try. Cloud Atlas is a marvel and David Mitchell is a genius, and no, I don’t feel that I’m throwing around the terms loosely. I wanted to eat this book, it was so deliciously composed.

To call the six stories within the novel interlinked undersells their connection. What at first seems to be tales stretched across time — mid 1800s Pacific ship life, 1930s music composition in Bruges, roughly modern England and California, engineered Korea so far in the future, and Hawaii even farther beyond — are more like sections of a map folded atop each other. Time bleeds and blends into the different locales, with each at least peripherally aware of the story against which they lie.

Mitchell weaves together so many narrative motifs, and yet they never feel heavy-handed. Different methods of communication shape each story in a way that best suits their time, and on reflection, play into the larger idea of progress, and what sacrifices are worth making in the name of endless innovation.

The opener, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” comes across as though Ewing has subconscious knowledge of eventual publication. Still, the details are not thoroughly rendered solely for the benefit of others. With limited methods of record, how else is a person to fully remember their experience? Ewing has boarded a ship headed from colonized islands into San Francisco, where the gold rush is in full effect. The ship’s crew mostly act as goods transport from the colonies to the United States, and as was the time, people have no trouble speculating about the inferior mental capabilities of the tribes they’ve “civilized.”

The Moriori’s generosity was rewarded when Cpt. Harewood returned from New Zealand with another four hundred Maori. Now the strangers proceeded to lay claim to Chatham by takahi, a Maori ritual transliterated as “Walking the Land to Possess the Land.” Old Rēkohu was thus partitioned & the Moriori informed they were now Maori vassals. In early December, when some dozen Aboriginals protested, they were casually slain with tomahawks. The Maori proved themselves apt pupils of the English in “the dark arts of colonization.”

It is worth noting that up until that point, the Moriori had not engaged in war in over six centuries, and Ewing wonders if the islands were “closer to More’s Utopia than our States of Progress governed by war-hungry princelings in Versailles & Vienna, Washington & Westminster?”

The journal ends mid-sentence, right as Ewing is starting to feel his mysterious illness getting worse. From there, we’re reading “Letters from Zedelghem,” addressed to a man called Sixsmith, written by a young composer on the lam named Robert Frobisher. He’s broken promises and owes a slew of money all over England, and he has run off to Bruges in the hopes of becoming the once-great composer Vyvyan Ayrs’s transcriber/assistant/mentee, his “amanuensis,” as he puts it. The older man’s health has been in decline, and while Frobisher admires the man’s music and hates its absence, he of course wants to use the experience to help himself. Writing to his close friend and sometimes lover, Frobisher has an eye on posterity, and so his way with words shows off a bit, but also in the same way that one might try to convince their loved ones that their lives are exciting or that their misadventures will be worthwhile in the end. Letters are also a way to pass the time when one feels so very alone.

Frobisher falls in well with Ayrs, but also starts an ill-advised relationship with his wife, Jocasta, while also managing conflicting thoughts for their daughter, Eva.

E. walked off to the stables, her whip swishing in the air like a lioness’s tail. Went off to the music room to forget my dismal performance in some devilish Liszt. Can normally rattle off an excellent La Prédication aux Oiseaux, but not last Friday. Thank God E.’s leaving for Switzerland tomorrow. If she ever found out about her mother’s nighttime visits — well, doesn’t bear thinking about. Why is it I never met a boy I couldn’t twist round my finger (not only my finger) but the women of Zedelghem seem to best me every time?

Completely changing in tone, Mitchell jumps into “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.” It’s a straight-up thriller, complete with a young reporter hot on the trail of a nuclear power company’s safety violations, and the silencing of those who might point out those flaws. It is divided into easily digestible short chapters filled with jaded co-workers, italicized internal monologue, double agents, a hit man… Hell, there’s even a malfunctioning elevator scene in which Luisa Rey meets Dr. Rufus Sixsmith.

The puzzle solving escapism is exactly the sort of peril one enjoys reading on vacation or during a summer matinee. Bad behavior meets tenacious good. The power plant, Seaboard Incorporated, insists that their new plant on Swannekke Island will revolutionize energy consumption and availability, but:

Luisa forces herself to speak calmly and ignore Jake’s mock conviction. “He’d [Sixsmith] written a report on a reactor type developed at Swannekke B, the HYDRA. Plans for Site C are waiting for Federal Power Commission approval. When it’s approved, Seaboard can license the design for the domestic and overseas market — the government contracts alone would mean a stream of revenue in the high tens of millions, annually. Sixsmith’s role was to give the project his imprimatur, but he hadn’t read the script and identified lethal design flaws. In response, Seaboard buried the report and denied its existence.”

Ah, but wait! Mitchell wants to simultaneously amp up and dial down the bewilderment. He can write suspense without it reading, as the next narrator puts it, “in neat little chapteroids, doubtless with one eye on the Hollywood screenplay.”

No, in “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish,” our title man will most certainly not be running into the fight. In fact, he’s headed north to Hull, precisely so he can avoid the thuggish family of the dead memoir writer of Knuckle Sandwich. Cavendish has profited massively from this book as its editor and publisher, and these brothers aren’t going to be the only creditors looking for him. One halfway forgets that they were just reading the voice of a young reporter, so steeped in “curmudgeonly middle-aged Englishman” Cavendish is:

Temple of the Rat King. Ark of the Soot God. Sphincter of Hades. Yes, King’s Cross Station, where, according to Knuckle Sandwich, a blow job costs only five quid — any of the furthest-left three cubicles in the men’s lavvy downstairs, twenty-four hours a day. I called Mrs. Latham to explain I would be in Prague for a three-week meeting with Václav Havel, a lie whose consequences stuck with me like herpes. Mrs. Latham wished me bon voyage. She could handle the Hogginses. Mrs. Latham could handle the Ten Plagues of Egypt. I don’t deserve her, I know it.

Of course, as the title would indicate, not all goes to plan. Cavendish speaks like a person telling a story to party guests after the fact. He uses the word “ruddy” — as in “No, that sign ruddy well did send me to this counter!” — what seems like every other paragraph, but instead of being irritating, it somehow comes off as amusing. At first, it’s hard to see where this story fits in with the rest, apart from the tangential manuscript connection, but all becomes more clear later.

Secrets, expected behavior, willful ignorance in the name of progress — all of these notions intensify by “An Orison of Sonmi-451.” What takes place is an interview between what is called an “xpedience,” who records history, and a “fabricant,” a human clone genetically programmed to serve a specific function — in this case, a server in a McDonald’s-like restaurant. Somni-451 is considered a criminal, for reasons one has to be patient to discover.

The xecs at the Ministry of Unanimity insisted that you, as a heretic, had nothing to offer corpocracy’s archives but sedition and blasphemy. Genomicists, for whom you are a holy grail, as you know, pulled levers on the Juche to have Rule 54.iii — the right to archivism — enforced against Unanimity’s wishes, but they hadn’t reckoned on senior archivists watching your trial and judging your case too hazardous to risk their reputations — and pensions — on. Now, I’m only eighth-stratum at my uninfluential ministry, but when I petitioned to orison your testimony, approval was granted before I had the chance to come to my senses. My friends told me I was crazy.
So you are gambling on your career on this interview?

… That is the truth of the matter, yes.
Your frankness is refreshing after so much duplicity.

A duplicitous archivist wouldn’t be much use to future historians, in my view.

This might have been my favorite part of the book. The language, the science, the whole world that Mitchell has created never, ever seemed strained. It did not feel derivative of anything else, book or film, and his word choice? Perfect. One does not need to have an extensive vocabulary to understand what is going on because even if I did not know that “orison” was an actual word (and not a creation like the way in which he defines “soap” in this world), I got what he meant, and I’ve since read up on its relation to the word “prayer.” What makes me want to dive back into the book is partly these little bits of language, all the subtle bits Mitchell has included that further enhance what he’s created. (I’ve fought the urge to start rereading the book roughly one hundred and eleventy-blue times since starting this review.)

Pushing the futuristic motifs and language even further is “Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After,” in which the old man Zachry tells of his childhood, bringing everything back to oral storytelling. Set after an event referred to as “The Fall,” Zachry is one of the few humans left on Earth who meets a mysterious older woman, a “Prescient” named Meronym, who knows much about what happened before that Fall. People live in basic huts and exist largely technology-free as they farm and avoid neighboring hostile tribes. Zachry does not entirely trust Meronym at first.

I’d got a bit o’ the brave by now an’ I asked our visitor why Prescients with all their high Smart’n’all want to learn ’bout us Valleysmen? What could we poss’bly teach her what she din’t know? The learnin’ mind is the livin’ mind, Meronym said, an’ any sort o’ Smart is truesome Smart, old Smart or new, high Smart or low. No un but me see the arrows o’ flatt’ry them words fired, or how this crafty spyer was usin’ our ign’rance to fog her true ‘tentions, so I follered my first question with this pokerer: But you Prescients got more greatsome’n’mighty Smart’n this Hole World, yay? Oh, so slywise she picked her words! We got more’n the tribes o’ Ha-Why, less’n Old Uns b’fore the Fall. See? Don’t say a hole lot does it, nay?

The reason why I go into this whole long plot summary/text example is that I just enjoy seeing the variance between the writing styles all laid out, not to mention the subtle connections to the previous stories. Why is it that I tired of heavy dialect in Huckleberry Finn, but ate it up in this book? Was it because it was only one section, a mere 70 pages? Because I was already in love with this book having read the previous 238 pages? Because after reading Mitchell’s most recent book last year, I already wanted to hug his face off? It’s probably all of these things. (That and a cranky once-upon-a-time high-schooler averse to classics is unlikely to pay too much attention to Huck, I reckon.)

“Sloosha’s Crossin'” occurs in the middle of the book and resolves entirely in one spectacular piece. From there, we move backwards, listening again to the orison of Somni-451, then back still until we reach Ewing again. Threads come together, holy shit moments abound. In his cover blurb, Michael Chabon compares the book to “a series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes,” which is quite apt. I feel like there are endless packages to unwrap within these pages. Not everyone could write a book like Cloud Atlas, never mind do it so well.

Honestly, we know I could keep going on. I could talk more about the idea of progress, our humanity, our unruly way of cutting off our noses to spite our faces, and also the great beauty and interconnectedness of the world. The remarkable unseen energy that floats through us all is endlessly fascinating to me, and should other readers of this book want to talk specifics, book club-style (side of wine-soaked aha! Moments optional), you’ve got the comment section right here.

Somewhat predictably, I’m going to have to resist the urge to fall down the David Mitchell back catalog rabbit hole for a little while longer while I move through other reading piles I’ve accumulated. Three other novels of his await, and perhaps its better that I break up the bouts of online gushing. They will come though, and I will enjoy every moment.

(This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters)

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