Wednesday, April 4, 2007

On David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas'

Every Matrioshka doll has a truth hidden inside.
It's never enough to contain just yourself.You need to contain something more.

I don't know if David Mitchell was inspired by a Matrioshka or whether he just had six heads which he decided to bring together and work with for once. (Yes,for once.And only for once.Cos they blend so seamlessly into each other that he has only one now.)

Don't flinch at me if you hear me repeating some of the words to be found on the book's jacket in praise of it. Read on.

Cloud Atlas is an audacious attempt at novel-writing not because of its scope and span but because for almost 300 odd pages the book runs a risk of losing credibility in the eyes of the reader. And that is a long time for a story to unravel itself,even judging by the ordinary standards employed for something to be called 'outrageous'.I haven't read many books in my lifetime but this is truly one of,make it the boldest attempt at novel-writing I have ever encountered.I must confess I did doubt Mitchell's prowess on a few occasions in the book - 'Did he need to do that? It's just going to make it harder for him to pull this off..' But he did.And I know one man's genius I'm never going to doubt again in my life.

But I do doubt if an average reader would be able to appreciate the quality of this work.It makes for hard reading at times.. very hard.And I actually don't find it surprising that it finished fifth alltime in a list of the books started but unfinished by Britons. (Go here )
This book is not just for everybody.

The idea is simple.Write six short stories.Split five of them into halves.Place the five first-halves one after the other,then the sixth complete one,then the second-halves in the reverse order..You've got a Matrioshkaesque novel in your hands.Cloud Atlas.

Mitchell explores various genres,as if taunting and daring the reader to keep up with his whims.And you always seem to get the feeling as you read on that he's actually making life harder for himself,that he's taking the tougher way out. This is one writer brave enough to embark on an odyssey,confident enough to back himself through it all,adventurous enough to explore unchartered territory and genius enough to pull it off.

A journal of a god-fearing notary being exposed to the vulgarities of colonialism,a series of letters a penniless,eccentric musical prodigy writes to his friend,a captivating thriller exploring the long-familiar 'greedy corporation vs. struggling journalist' motif,an account of an old publisher exploring the wrongness of the wrong side of sixty,an interrogation of an alleged 'enlightened' fabricant in the near future governed by a 'corporation' and finally a 'back-to-the-future' account of a tribe surviving long after the crash of civilization..

Six arcs taken,split and re-arranged so that they all form a circle.You end back where you started.

This is a novel that contains so much more than it shows.It is a daring attempt at stretching the limits of novel-writing which seem inadequate to contain a work of such enormous depth.It is so profound beneath the veneer - a metaphorical representation of the journey of mankind in time.It is a grave reminder of the horrors of civilization and the fate that awaits it.

I am going to read Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty soon.Not because it won the Booker but just to see how it could beat Cloud Atlas to it.


Anonymous said...

you have made the comment on every ones behalf. If reading such a tiny morsel of that book itself demands so much, then u can see why it took so long even for a push forward like me to make a comment.

jo said...

I have not dared to read the book yet but the way you have reviewed the book is delightfully tantalising. and every time I read the review it increases my interest levels.