Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Six novels in one (and good ones too)

I am currently thoroughly enjoying British author David Mitchell's novel "Cloud Atlas", which was one of the finalists for the 2004 Man Booker Prize (see how far behind I am on my reading list!)
It is really six books in one as it follows six separate but subtly-linked stories covering several centuries. In fact, the novel could be said to have a pyramidal shape as the stories in the first (chronological) half of the book are unfinished, and then time flows backwards as the stories are completed in the (anti-chronological) second half. The links between the stories flow backwards as well as forwards, and sometimes skip steps completely.
It is something of a tour de force of stylistic writing as well, as the stories are written in styles appropriate to their times and places. We move from the proper diction of a nineteenth century colonialist in the Antipodes (written in a maritime journal style); to a series of personal letters by a young composer in 1930's Belgium; to a racy spy/adventure story from 1970's California; to a witty and whimsical comic novella/screenplay set in modern day England; to a technocratic sci-fi interview set in a future, post-apocalyptic, Korea; and, finally, to the Hawaii of a more distant future where most of mankind has reverted back to basics and technology is just a half-understood memory.
And back again.
Just to give some idea of the different styles, here are a few short quotes from different sections:
  • "If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote, that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, 'tis not down on any map I ever saw."
  • "Eva still a prissy miss, as hateful as my sisters, but with an intelligence to match her enmity. Apart from her precious Nefertiti, her hobbies are pouting and looking martyred."
  • "The editor-in-chief of Spyglass magazine declares the Monday AM features meeting open by stabbing a stubby digit at Roland Jakes, a grizzled, prunelike man in an aloha shirt, flared Wranglers and dying sandals."
  • "A trio of teenettes, dressed like Prostitute Barbie, approached, drift-netting the width of the pavement. I stepped into the road to avoid collision...Ruddy she-apes."
  • "Unanimity arrived in force to blip every diner's Soul and to nikon eyewitness' accounts as the dome was evacuated. We cleaned the dinery and imbibed Soap without Vespers. The following yellow-up, my sisters' memories of Yoona-939's killing remained largely intact."
  • "Adam, my bro, an' Pa 'n' me was trekkin' back from Honakaa Market on miry roads with a busted cart axle in draggly clothesies...Sloosha's was friendsome ground tho' marshy, no un lived in the Waipio Valley 'cept for a mil'yun birds, that's why we din't camo our tent or pull cart or nuthin'."
I think it is pretty clear, even from these short clips, which quote is from which part of the story. Quite an achievement. I'm already looking forward to his previous book "Number9dream"which is next on my to-read shelf.

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