I am rereading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. John Mullan gives an excellent account of what the book is about, in the Saturday Review of the Guardian. Part two of this review was published yesterday, and through the link you can easily get to part one. Cloud Atlas is not an easy book to read, but utterly fascinating and as with Ghostwritten, reviewed here, I appreciate this book even more on second reading.
Our lives are not really very chronological I think, even if that may sound contradictory. Current concerns juxtapose themselves on past memories and vice versa and then there are our ambitions, future goals and aims that form another layer of consciousness further down, most of the time, but that are just as much part of what we are. Our several inner lives and therefore who we are as persons are very complicated, and it’s not easy for anyone else to understand us, just by the provision of a chronological account of what happened to us so far. Our stories are multiples, not linear, layers of different stories that interact and make us who we are – mostly unknowable to others, always changing.
David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is a collection of stories and plots that are interrupted, picked up and cast aside, all at random, seemingly, and because of this his books provide challenges to readers, no doubt about that. I read it before, and was fascinated by the way in which Mitchell does away with trying to win over the reader by writing one straightforward story with a plot. This is not that, Cloud Atlas is complicated, challenging and utterly brilliant. There are six independent stories that nevertheless interlink, and which are picked up again in reverse order halfway through. This demands your full attention, you cannot skip. John Mullan’s account and an insight into what the stories are about, are much better than I ever could provide. I am simply mesmerised, and full of admiration of the writing skills, Mitchell’s mastery of the language, his aphorisms and surprising use of words, and wonder at the apparent ease with which he conjures up lives and worlds that flow from one into the other, where one story is as self-contained as the other, in different time zones and geography, yet he manages to interlink them like a donut, layer within layer.
Read John Mullan’s reviews in the Guardian – it’s excellent (of course). John Mullan spoke with Mitchell about Cloud Atlas at the Hay Festival.
If you are looking for someone to read who has extraordinary ‘word and language skills’ and you are not afraid of the challenge that you will need to read every single sentence, then definitely David Mitchell is for you. I am a great admirer of his writing. I think it needs more than two reads to get to the bottom of it all. Isn’t that great? One book, three or four reads. Now I call that value for money!
There is also the matter of simply enjoying life for what it is, like a visit and a good barbecue on a sunny Saturday evening.
So what that today, Sunday, is once more back to grey skies and forecast of rain after a thunderous night. That gives time to carry on reading some more of Cloud Atlas, the Sunday papers and anything else piling up. Tomorrow the New Yorker will unveil the ’20 under 40′ young writers list – although we already know who’s on it! More locally, the Norwich writers’ club has announced its six summer reads. So much to read!