David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

One of the greatest joys of summer, for me, is getting a brief glimpse of that seemingly long-ago period of my life when I used to Read for Fun. Which is something different from having fun while reading; it’s reading utterly divorced from utility, reading something that one intends neither to teach nor to write about (nor, for that matter, to use as a means of distracting the brain from work long enough to allow you to fall asleep), reading just for the sheer pleasure of it. It’s the kind of reading that I used to do as a kid, in which I’d immerse myself so deeply in the diegetic universe of the book that I’d be lightly dizzy when I looked up from it.

The good news is that I got to do a bit of that kind of reading week before last. I’d been stalling on reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, in large part because I wanted to enjoy it, to allow myself to experience it as a novel rather than as a piece of work. And I did; the nested dolls of the novel’s various narratives not only had me curled up on the bed reading during hours when I ought to have been doing other stuff, but also occupied my thoughts during those odd hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep. There are points, particularly in the last third, at which I found its narration to be a bit too on the nose, making darned sure that the reader wasn’t going to miss the point, but on the other hand, many of the connections among its narratives and characters are quite subtle. And the novel’s structure raises some interesting questions about the nature of narrative diegesis itself, forcing the reader to think about what kinds of stories can fit into other kinds of stories, and what kinds can’t, and why.

The bad news is that I tore through the novel with something of the speed with which I used to read as a kid, and so the novel ended much too quickly. And, alas, that was the only novel I had with me; two others were in That Box. So I’m trying to read a little French fiction, but there’s no way I’m making that diegetic escape in another language. At least not yet.

1 Comment

  1. I am glad to see that this book is still getting some traction and notice. I found it to be a very compelling read (especially the central post-apocalyptic Hawaii story and the one with Robert Frobisher) and have lent it to a diverse set of people, all of whom enjoyed it. I was wondering if the mix of genres might have led to a slow initial uptake, but it does seem to be a great “word-of-mouth” book.

    My “if you enjoyed this, then” recommendations are George Stewart’s kinder, gentler apocalyptic novel from an ecological point of view, Earth Abides, and Jane Smiley’s masterful work The Greenlanders, which like Cloud Atlas works well in conjunction with Jared Diamond’s Collapse.

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