Thursday, 13 January 2011

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

To explain the uphill struggle that this book has been needs an analogy - and the closest that comes to mind is what I imagine climbing Mount Everest would be like (a hell of a lot easier on the way down than on the way up!). 

I can completely see why this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize but I'm stumped as to what Richard and Judy were thinking when they named it their winner for Best Read of the Year. This is not summer reading.  By any stretch of the imagination, I cannot see someone plowing through this in a couple of days while sunbathing on their holidays. However, I do believe this book will stand the test of time.  I can see people in years to come studying this book and its view of the future in great depth. And if you have the patience and commitment for a book like this then give it a try and see how you do.

Firstly let me say that David Mitchell is nothing short of a genius - the man manages to compile six narratives that on the surface have nothing to do with the others and not only link them but construct them linguistically to show the different eras.  And no I don't just mean using 1920s English and modern day English - the man goes into the future with a servant robot who says things like "Last nite" (no that isnt a typo!) and "xperimental" and "thru" and then even further into the beyond where the language was so difficult to understand it reminded me of Joseph's rants in Wuthering Heights.

And then he takes you back again. Through 529 pages, Mitchell transports his readers to the past, present, future, back to present and then back to the past. He does so using a diary, letters, an interview, and standard narrative - and what a brilliant ride home. By the second half, I have to admit that I had entirely forgotten who half the characters were because I have been reading this for a few weeks now and excuse me for not remembering a secondary character that was last mentioned 400 pages ago. But it doesn't matter. I stopped trying to retain information and just decided to go with the flow, skimming over text that didn't really make sense to me and not being concerned with why I couldn't remember who that guy she just mentioned was. And then it got really good. As often is the case in both books and films, when the plot is complex and the millions of loose ends start to tie up in neat and tidy little knots, the confusion evaporates - and evaporate it did. I laughed out loud while reading one part on the train and was gripped in others to the point of almost missing my stop.

There are a select few books which are not easy reads but are well worth the effort - Wuthering Heights, Lord of the Rings and War and Peace spring to mind - and I can now happily add Cloud Atlas to that list.  I think in a couple of years I may try it again and realise all the points I missed this time round.

But for now... I think I need to go and lie down. My head hurts.


LE xx

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