Cloud Atlas: better late than never

Finished it today. Humbled and thrilled by Mitchell's precocious virtuosity. He has cleared a new section in the forest, it seems to me. We all owe him a beer. The matryoshka structure, the planning, the meticulous interthreading that he manages to convincingly deploy -- most impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. Kind of like Nabokov meets Anthony Burgess meets Jonathan Lethem meets etc. etc... I think the Frobisher bits were the most polished, the Ewing bits maybe my sentimental favorite, Sonmi the most exciting. But no part of it left me too dissatisfied. I will have to read it again in a few years to begin actually delineating every bit of the puzzle -- I have questions still (the tattoo? is it okay to go from ostensible reality to ostensible fiction and back and forth like that? actual cause of the Fall and its relation to concrete events in the book? How the Hawaii mission survived and why were they white? These may be or become obvious.). His overall theme of the strong overcoming the weak was resounding and powerful, more than enough engine to power the thing all the way. Thank you, Tom Hobbes, for that. As far as cons, I was left just a bit cold by the tone, maybe by the clinical precision in language that he employs throughout. The Luisa Ray bits came closest to annoying me as bad fiction, but they never made it there. Can you have heart and head both equally triumphant? He comes awfully close, but the head wins out here, I think. I felt closest to Frobisher and Ewing, like they were the most human. And Sonmi -- she also found her way into my emotions. The restraint she maintained while butting heads with the most enormous and deadly infuriating lies of power. I'm not sure it'd be possible to pull off a trick like this while also creating characters you fully fall in love with. But heck, maybe it is. If someone can come this close to marrying dazzling intellectual pleasures with heart-wrenchers and tummy-ticklers... Anyway, I found this delicious -- so thanks very much to all for the recommendation.


SER said...

I loved "Letters from Zedelghem" (sp?) the best (devastating!), followed by Sonmi. To me, "Timothy Cavendish" seemed like the outlier, although it was hilarious (maybe that was the point). I'm glad you liked it!

kclou said...

I really liked the Frobisher parts and really didn't like the Luisa Rey parts (one of my questions: was that section trying to be "genre" fiction? if so, why?).

I don't love the way Mitchell strung it together (birthmarks...clouds...), but there are some tremendous characters here, and I think Grendel is right in emphasizing the thematic connections, which are truly praiseworthy. It's a great book to get you thinking about how structure can showcase ideas.

Vampiro said...

I did enjoy it, but it felt a little light to me (as light as ending the world can feel). My beef was with the very questions that Grendel raised. And as to the last page or so tying everything together, it seemed too neat.

And kclou, I read all of the Luis Rey stuff as genre fiction (maybe I read too much of that crap in my ... um, youth). As to why? I don't know except that all the sections represented different literary styles as much as different time periods. They were chronological, for the most part: the diary narrative, the letter narrative, etc. Luis Rey hits the 1960s-70s pulp. (pretty big jump from epistolary to the 70s, but whatever...) And the Cavendish section was supposedly a direct and intentional imitation of Martin Amis's style (which I think hits pretty close). I suppose that would be the contemporary style.

It was fun to read, though, and this guy is a pretty serious stylist. Has anyone read his other stuff?