Monday, December 04, 2006

Reading: Cloud Atlas

On the back of my copy, AS Byatt is quoted as saying "David Mitchell entices his readers onto a rollercoaster, and at first they wonder if they want to get off. Then - at least in my case - they can't bear the journey to end." This seems to sum up my reaction to this novel very well too.

I found it quite hard to give this book the time it deserved: it's been on my "to-read" pile for absolutely ages and although I've started it before, I've never kept going with it. But on an impulse, I took it with me on my long train journey at the weekend and got going. It's an interwoven tale where six narratives connect and split. It covers different time periods, from one set in the 19th century to the present to the distant future. It's told in halves, sometimes cut mid-flow, and then starting a new narrative. This is quite a jerk, and to begin with I found it annoying. Then I started wondering how each story would be concluded and whether it would have that satisfaction of resolution or whether we would be left hanging. It was done very effectively.

The author was playing with ideas about power and corruption, slavery and rebellion, and identity. Each of the characters share a birthmark, so whether they are the same person reincarnated or whether descendants, or whether marked by destiny, is a matter of speculation. Muitchell also toys with notions of story-telling: who is narrating, who is the audience, whether the narratives are written as real-life accounts or entirely fictionalised. For example, the tattered journal of Adam Ewing is read by Frobisher, whose letters are read by Luisa Rey, who is a character in a political thriller and so on. An element of doubt about the reality of events is inserted by Frobisher's skepticism about the authenticity of language used in the journal, while the fact that Luisa Rey becomes a character in a novel read by another protagonist works similarly.

The s-f parts of the book were interesting: one set in a technologically advanced dystopia, the other a post-apocalyptic landscape. The latter was somewhat reminiscent of A Canticle For Leibowitz.

I really enjoyed this novel and I'm glad I finally read it!

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