Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

We're married!  It seems so crazy, but true.  We had a wonderful wedding last weekend and, despite the attempts of Hurricane Sandy and a 24-hour stomach virus, we really enjoyed Jamaica.  In fact, and here comes my shameless plug, we have started a new blog to document our life together.  If you have any interest in my life outside of what I read, you may want to check out Napp Time.  There is not much there yet, but I promise there will be soon.

Back to books.  I am assuming that if you are here, that is what you are actually interested in.  Jamaica delivered in full on one count - time to read!  I finished two and a half books while we were down there.  It was wonderful to lay by the pool or on the beach next to my husband and indulge in one of my favorite activities.  I even got Kevin in on the fun!

Cloud Atlas appeared first on my priority list.  In fact, on both the flight to Charlotte (our connecting point) and the flight to Montego Bay, I did not even pull out my electronics.  Instead, Cloud Atlas, and the entertaining people sitting around us, held my full attention.  Mitchell's work captivates.  His writing style exhibits skill and premeditation.  He clearly has selected each word with forethought.  As much as I read, which you know better than anyone, I found myself having to slow down and process each sentence.  I do not know that I can classify this as a "difficult read" but it certainly was not an "easy" one.  Mitchell gives so much detail, but in such a subtle way.  He demands the reader's attention, but then keeps it adeptly.

Mitchell formatted the book as six separate stories.  The best way to describe the setup compares the book to a Russian nesting doll (this analogy has been used by many other reviewers).  Mitchell gives you half of each story before moving on to the next and, finally, doubling back to complete each loose end.  Ergo, the basic order is 12345654321.  I promise, this makes much more sense if you are actually reading the book.  As tempting as it is to review each plot line individually, that would keep you hear all day and me on the couch writing this all night.  Each story truly could stand alone.  Each exhibits its own voice and approach to storytelling.  Mitchell includes a journal, written correspondence, the transcript of an interrogation, and still more styles.  The stories span in setting from a ship in the late 1800s to modern day England to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii.  Because of the variety in voice, style, and setting, it stands to reason that one reader will not find all stories equal.  While each is well written, I found myself reading some sections more voraciously than others.  I treasured the story (#2) of the composer because of my musical background.  I struggled through The First Luisa Rey Mystery (#3) because I could not connect with it as well.  The futuristic story of Sonmei-451 (#4) captured my addiction to sci-fi work and kept me hanging on every word.  To me, this approach made the book unique and captivating.  Truly, the variety plays to the author's advantage; if you are not enjoying one story line, you know you will not have to wait long for an entirely new one to appear.  The only downsides to this technique are the possible disconnects.  In the first half of the book, as Mitchell introduces each story and cast of characters, it can be difficult to transition from one to the next.  Each chapter leaves the reader with a cliff hanger, only to be dropped into a completely new world with nothing of any familiarity onto which to grasp.  On the reverse end, as you read through the second half of the novel, particularly toward the end, it can be a struggle to recall all the details of a particular world. By the time I made my return to the Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (#1), I almost felt as if I should reread the first half of his story entirely so as to fully appreciate its conclusion. Yet, despite these struggles, Mitchell proves that he knows what he is doing.  He is adept at releasing information slowly, so as not to overwhelm the reader in the new environment he has created.  At the start of each new story, he holds your head above water and guides you to stability to keep you from drowning in transition between worlds.

If you just watch the trailer for the newly released film, which, in honesty, started my interest in this work in the first place, you would most likely find yourself believing that there was going to be some over-arching theme/story/connection to tie everything together.  I kept waiting for the big mystery to reveal itself.  The mystery, however, seems to be that there is no mystery.  While the works do briefly mention each other (the composer finds the sailor's journal in the house library, the publisher reads the novel about the reporter, etc), the connections are slim and mostly inconsequential to the plots.  Mitchell does also weave in some subtle suggestions of reincarnation; but, you must pay close attention to catch them.  This lack of connection is my, and apparently many others', biggest complaint.  The book seems to be so intentional and well thought out, yet the connecting pieces between the stories are weak links.  In some ways, one could argue that perhaps Mitchell just could not choose which story to write, so he wrote them all.  The book is arguably a collection of short stories, set up in a unique format.  This does detract from the excellence of the writing; it does, however, come off a bit like false advertising.  I suppose that is not really Mitchell's fault, though.  His main advertising at the moment comes from the film adaptation - and we all know how those often turn out.

I am eager to see the film.  After all, its trailer sparked my interest in the book to begin with.  Entertainment news and film reviews since its release suggest that the film is a flop.  Frankly, I can see why.  If the movie is trying to emphasis the connection between the stories as its main draw, they are relying on the weakest part of the book.  Each story is so unique, it is hard to imagine them coming together in a condensed period of time on the screen.  I imagine that Sonmei-451's story will translate beautiful to our blockbuster-loving culture.  On the other hand, I cannot see the story of post-apocalyptic Hawaii being well understood by the typical movie-goer.  I am very apprehensive, to say the least.  We will most likely wait until it comes to Netflix, at this point.  I want Kevin to be able to finish the book first.  I am very proud to say that he read faithfully and with interest once I finished it.  He is not done yet, but I have high hopes.

Regardless of how the movie turns out, I am still grateful that it introduced me to this book and this author.  Mitchell has a unique approach and a writing style that demonstrates flexibility and skill.  I look forward to reading some of his other works.  Any author who can get my husband engaged in reading deserves attention.

Has a movie or a trailer ever gotten you to read a book you hadn't before?  Did you like the movie or the book better?  If you have read or seen Cloud Atlas, how do you think it translated to the big screen?  Is it worth seeing?

Pages: 528
Date Completed: October 23, 2012

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