Friday, March 21, 2008
What I'm Reading
The last book that I finished reading was David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and I actually finished it months ago, but never got around to this post. The first thing that I have to say about this book is that it is amazing, really. The writing is incredible, the plot lines are unpredictable and the way that the book is organized is totally unique.
With that out of the way, every review of this book gives roughly the same synopsis of what it's all about and it goes something like this: The story begins in the 19th century, somewhere in the South Pacific. We are reading the journal of Adam Ewing, a notary on board a trading ship. His descriptions of the native islands that he visits are wordy and formal and difficult to read. It's hard to uncover the story with all the formal stuffy language of a 19th century Englishman who is trying to explain the "barbaric" and "uncivilized" land that he has found himself in. But just when you're about to give up on Adam Ewing and his outdated musings the story ends mid-sentance and another story begins.
This time, we are reading letters from a young composer in 1930s Belgium to his friend back in London (mostly asking for more money and complaining about the fact that his family has cut him off financially for good). These letters end as abruptly as Adam Ewing's diary did and the story continues with a John Grisham-esque crime and conspiracy novel set in the late 1970s in California. In all, this book contains 6 separate stories that reach accross the globe and throughout time, incorporating drama, romance, sci-fi, crime and action themes. The stories are nested one inside the other, so when you get to the sixth story you get to read it all the way through, followed by the second half of the fifth story and so on all the way down until the end of Adam Ewing's adventure.
The stories are connected, but the strength of the connections varies in importance and impact from story to story, and every time you think you see a theme emerging that ties the stories together it vanishes when you turn the page. This could lead to frustration in any other novel, but in Cloud Atlas you never really feel like you're grasping for something that isn't there. Each story has its own answers and its own conclusions and in the end you realize that each commentary can either be interpreted on its own or as part of the whole, and it works equally well either way. I'm putting this book in my list of favorites, right alongside of Life of Pi, The Time Traveller's Wife, and The Namesake.
Last Book: Martin Amis' tale of love in a Soviet gulag, House of Meetings.
Up Next: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.