Saturday, September 23, 2006

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 2004.

W-- recommended this book to me, back in May, and I've been meaning to read it all this time. The book is beyond genius. It's one of the best things I've read in ages, though in many ways, it's unrelentingly bleak. It's hard to escape a line that appears near the end that in many ways sums up the nature of the stories in the novel: Mitchell quotes from the Aeneid, and writes "sunt lacrimae rerum". The line in context is from 1.426: "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt", "these are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart."

It's not a happy book, but it's ingenious. A series of six stories, like nestled Russian dolls--an image that comes up in the book more than once, and to which Mitchell refers in this interview--they're intricately linked. "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" turns out to be a torn book in the second story, "Letters from Zedelghem", and so on to the central story "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After", and then back out again. Described in this way, the novel sounds precious, and hard to read: too intentionally post-modern to be of interest. It's anything but. Each of the six stories is compelling. They're allusive, and post-modern, to be sure, but intriguing and brilliantly told. I had a great deal of trouble putting the book down, especially as I read through the second, concluding parts of each story. Each one is fascinating, though I think I enjoyed "An Orison of Somni-451" and "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After" the best.

At any rate. Go forth, and read. It's an amazing book, and I can't wait to read more Mitchell.