21 June 2010

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Thoughts and Reflections:
If I've said it once, I've at least said it twice, I believe firmly in the timing of books. I had tried reading this one back in February when I first bought it and again in April as my classes were wrapping up. Unfortunately, in neither instance was I able to get caught up in the book enough to keep reading it. Then I noticed that The Guardian had chosen the novel for one of their book club/discussions (Here are the postings from June: 5 June, 11 June, 12 June), which convinced me to give it another go. To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised.

The novel is broken up into a number of different sections, described as a matryoshka (Russian nesting doll), each with its own protagonist, connection to the other sections, and setting. I believe this element of the novel was completely brilliant. We begin with the diary of a man crossing the South Pacific, followed by the correspondence of an English aspiring musician working with a retired professional pianist, followed by the high adventure tale of a nuclear physicist and a journalist battling against the destructive environmental policies of a nuclear corporation in America, followed by the unfortunate tale of an unstable publisher who ends up in a home for the elderly, followed by the story of a clone in the distant future in a world rules by corporations and consumerism, followed the story of a primitive group of people after the fall of the corporate-driven society. And then we travel back through each of the stories, learning more of their connections and lives.

My favourite section would have to be An Orison of Sonmi ~451. I have grown weary of the "Big Brother" predictions of the future. To me, these images of the future are thoroughly entrenched in the Cold War era and of little relevance in the world today. Mitchell's depiction of the future, in my opinion, is much more relevant to current trends. This world depicts a world divided into a shocking class structure, with clones (fabricants) as veritable slaves at the very bottom of the structure. This is a world raped by corporate rulers and rampant consumerism (given the title corpocracy). It was both refreshing and disturbing to read about this possible future, for certain.

Each section held themes of prejudice, the moral failing of humanity and subjugation. Each protagonist of each section experiences brutality and hardship, yet the book carries a theme of hope, an idea or aspiration to change the future for the better, rather than rape the present for what its worth. The book goes in full circle from a primitive state of humanity, through development and innovation, and back to tribalism. I loved the connections and feel as though many more exist than what I picked up. It seems that each section is influenced or modelled after another literary piece or actual people. For instance, the protagonist and antagonist of Letters from Zedelghem were influenced by Fenderick Delius and his amanuensis Eric Fenby. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing was inspired by the works of Herman Melville. There is an odd motif of a spaceship-shaped birth mark on each of the protagonists. I didn't quite figure this one out beyond physically linking each of the characters to each other. If someone has any insight on the matter, I'd love to know.

All in all, I loved the book. This book would be great to read and discuss with a book club to discuss the many connections and themes, to be sure. I found it totally unique and a pleasure to read. I will absolutely add it to my list of top recommendations. I look forward to reading it again in future with the hope of picking up new themes and connections the next time around.

About the Author:
David Mitchell was born in England in 1969. He went to the University of Kent to study English literature and American History, later completing his Master's Degree in Comparative literature. Has has spend time living in Sicily and Japan. He has written 5 novels, 2 of which were short listed for the Man Booker. Cloud Atlas was short-listed in 2004 for the Man Booker. He currently lives in Ireland with his wife and 2 children.

Things I Loved About This Novel:
1) The unique style of different, seemingly unrelated sections that were inter connected

2) The depiction of the future, as brutal as it was

3) The hopeful message contrasting the harsh stories of the protagonists

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