Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Normally the book group reads pre-release titles. This one snuck through by being pre-paperback-release. And thank God it did!
Numbers were a little low at this month’s group: many had work commitments, several had not finished the book (it’s a long one); about half lost the struggle with the inner conflict of a double booking with the rum tasting in the Forest room downstairs and left early. But what we lost in absentees, we made-up in new members – sowing the seeds for a robust discussion fertilised by new personalities arguing about the merits, or otherwise, of Cloud Atlas.
Except that everyone loved it.
In an early Simpsons episode, Homer invented a cocktail that took Springfield by storm. The Flaming Homer was an unlikely mix of relatively standard ingredients and tasted like a failed chemistry experiment until some fool – Bart probably – lit the mixture and, in Homer’s words, “…heat made it goooood!”
Cloud atlas is a Flaming Homer. David Mitchell has combined ordinary ingredients – the diary of an American on an English ship, returning from the colonies; the letters of a disgraced young composer who, sir, was a cad and a bounder; a nineteen seventies girl’s-own journalistic mystery; the pompous ranting of a geriatric London publisher; a sci-fi tale of genetically modified humans bred for the fast-food labour force in Seoul; and a post apocalyptic paradise of simple yet wise subsistence farmers in Hawaii – and mixed them with some sort of alchemist’s magic into a story that more than earned its 2004 Man Booker prize nomination.
So our potentially turbulent February book group became a dissent-free zone where we tried to find the alchemist’s tool that makes this book what it is. Our best theory was that there is a kind of trust between an author and reader. When we trust the author we let them manipulate us, lead us where we would not go ourselves, and deny us things that we want because we trust them to give us an adventure far better than anything we could come up with ourselves. And David Mitchell does play with us – he invents words, he moves the narrative around, he gets us involved in a story then chops it off and starts another one – and he is so good at what he does, and so completely unapologetic about it, that we trusted him and were rewarded for it.
If this sounds a bit religious – trust your God as he subjects you to the twists, turns and undercurrents of a turbulent life, because the grand plan will ultimately reward you – it is because David Mitchell is a some sort of God in the writing sense. If you trust him to guide you through the twists and turns in Cloud Atlas, you too will be rewarded.

Who: David Mitchell
What: Cloud Atlas
Who by: Sceptre
When: February 2005
Where: London
Why: It is one of the best books I have ever read
Why not: Oh for fuck's sake people, live a little - there is no not!
How much: £6.99 (paperback)