“A half-finished book is after all a half-finished love affair.”
A half-finished review is confusing and likely:
You feel like you enter the Secret Garden and are walking the maze of walled shrubbery. There’s a parasol, a sailor, a composer, a writer of a journal as good as Sylvia’s Plath, but more hot-buttoned-English-vest. A robot will greet you at the end and a boy with an accent part Caribbean, part Afrikan, part Southerner. It’s the land of misfit toys meets Alice in Wonderland, but then you’re forced to put together these puzzle pieces of worlds you’ve lived. It’s like looking at a broken mirror of your own humanity and staring at the pot-marked and freckled face that you see staring back. This world of green and blue’s that reflects catastrophe, and the many lives we live in the one we’re given.
It’s Cloud Atlas, not the sextet, but the story.
Cloud Atlas isn’t a book, it’s a work of art. It’s how I imagine JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter. David Mitchell must have spent years in a room with a very dark chalkboard. He must have squared off a million different timelines and sketched the inhabitants between them. Where are we? What’s the climate? What voice does this character have, what size and shape are they and what does that mean for the echo of their voice in the walls of their bodies? This just reminds me that all writers are insane. We hear voices in our heads telling us where we’re going, how many apostrophes and bicycle accessories we need.
It’s rare to find a book that creates a whole new way of writing. Science does new experiences everyday, math comes up with new formulas, but writing, writers are masters of plagiarism. We tell the same stories, we use the same characters, the same character traits, the same desires, the same happy endings or catastrophic surprises. I like to think I’m pretty well-read (maybe not in every genre though). I have Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham sitting next to the toilet in my guest bathroom. I hear it’s a similar read to Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas came first and of course Cunningham’s whole Pulitzer winning novel came from Woolf. Plagiarism, dear ones, remixing.
Cloud Atlas has six stories and they stack up like a mountain. I believe the middle one is supposed to be the climax because I didn’t really desperately care about anyone but Louisa Rey by the second part of the book. Although, Cavendish did become a friend that grew on me over time. He wasn’t so great on first impression. (He had some Chandler Bing tendencies). Oh characters, oh how they loosen inside us.
Mitchell is constantly reminding us of his Russian doll motif. The novel is supposed to come apart and stack back up again. As a reader, I felt like I could never suspend into the fiction and forget that I was part of a game. My petticoat was always dirty with the garden maze soil. It’s a complicated read. I tried to explain it to my boyfriend and started by saying, “well in this section an English gentlemen is on a boat and writing his diaries about the characters on his voyage and then in the next story Frobisher is an apprentice composer and he is trying to sell the diaries of the man in the first story that he finds in the Belgium library of his Composer boss who has saved him from debt…” I had to stop there because my boyfriend saw what was about to happen and I had no idea where to place the commas, or my pauses for breath.
I get very excited when I discuss books. I was really excited to explain the science formula that unfolded as I read. It was like eating a meaty taco and having the juices and jalapeno sauce spill over the napkin in your lap. You’re fresh out of luck if you don’t politely place that all-white napkin across your knees. The bits ooze out, the flanked lettuce slips from the corners of your mouth, the string cheese is like drool. (Never thought I’d compare a book to eating a taco, but you get crafty). You’re missing pieces of the plot, waiting for the big surprise. In this book, I kept wondering if it would be bigger than just a birth mark.
Did I tell you when I was a kid that I was desperately embarrassed by a birthmark on my back? I wouldn’t wear tank tops to school. My mother always called it a “beauty mark.” How very Marilyn of me. I was more insecure about that mark and the gap in my teeth than I’ve ever been since then. When I read characters with birth marks, I always remember that 11-year-old-girl who didn’t want to turn her face towards her shoulder and smile into the camera in case the small brown mound on the geography of her body would be discovered.
The comet birth mark (continuing motif) was both everything to that small reading girl and nothing to the reading of this story because it wasn’t enough of a connection to make me care about each and every character. Why didn’t he work harder to make their souls vibrate through the page. However, you can always thank a book that reminds you what you were like at your most human. I was at my most human when I was eleven and insecurities hid in my pores.
I feel like I’ve stopped making sense.
This is my brain on Cloud Atlas.
If I have thoroughly confused you and made myself look like a moron, then just read the following passage, it’s about every single one of you.
“Because her scent is almonds, meadow grass. Because if I smile at her ambition to be an Egyptologist, she kicks my shin under the table. Because she makes me think about something other than myself. Because even when serious she shines. Because she prefers travelogues to Sir Walter Scott, prefers Billy Mayerl to Mozart, and couldn’t tell C major from a sergeant major. Because I, only I, see her smile a fraction before it reaches her face…”
And here I’ve been teaching my students not to start a sentence with because, or and.
Cheers to my first review of the year being as confusing as unknotting a slim gold chain.
This is your brain on my review of Cloud Atlas.