Summer Reading: Week 9

17 August 2006

Cloud Atlas

Well, it looks like I’m behind once again.

After finishing David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, I can’t help but hunger for more of his writing. Since I’ve read one of his two Man Booker Prize Finalists, I figured I’d better read the other. I’ll be starting Number9Dream tonight.

I don’t really know where to start with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The book reminds me of an album. If each of the five narratives that make up Cloud Atlas were a track, or maybe a movement, then what we have is an expansive genre shifting album.

The first four narratives stop abruptly at a low point . Either you think a character has died, or they’re trapped somewhere. The main character in the following narrative either reads about, or watches video about the previous narrative. If you’ll allow me to shift into another analogy, by the time we get to the fifth, it’s as if we’re in the very center of a Russian nesting doll. After that fifth narrative finishes with out interruption, the end of each of the previous four narratives are lead into one after the next.

The center piece, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”, is about a primitive tribesman named Zach’ry living in Hawaii. Most of the world has died in “The Fall” and what’s left are mostly tribes of primitives such as Zach’ry and the last of a technologically advanced society. Meronym is a member of that society and she decides she wants to come and document Zach’ry’s tribe. Like the other narratives, Zach’ry’s deals in themes of slavery/social prejudice and injustice in a way that seems to suggest the inevitability of these problems, but also meditates on what we can do when we recognize them.

While exploring these themes, the book is always entertaining. Each narrative’s pastiche is as sharp as the next, though never failing to make the characters feel like living, breathing human beings. It is definitely the most interesting and unconventional read I’ve had all summer.

Summer Reading List:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

3. Black Hole by Charles Burns

4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

5. Number9Dream by David Mitchell

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