“Lending Fragile Color to Wildflowers”

“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.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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.

Steal Like an Artist

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.

BreakfastGreen aka Miriam (Spain) – Conviction, 2012

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.

Russian Doll

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.

20 thoughts on ““Lending Fragile Color to Wildflowers”

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I started this and then gave it to a friend who lives in Copenhagen, so have never actually finished it. Seems like a bit of a challenge, a rewarding one I hope? I did enjoy Black Swan Green and think you would too, especially now you are teaching, the young school boy character in that book is an inspiration.

    This is a great review Cassie, no half review at all, full of excellent original lines – all yours!

    • Cassie says:

      I think it is worth it even if it all didn’t come together like I hoped it would. I wanted more knowledge at the end of the feat I just conquered but that’s just my need of wrapping things up in a book. I think for any writer it’s a good read because it’s great writing. I just simultaneously wish he relied on his reader more in parts and gave more hints in parts.

      I think you would enjoy it if you tried again. I’ll get Black Swan Green from the library soon!

  2. Bea says:

    This was a wonderful book review, because, we the readers, can feel the book through your words. Now that’s something special! What a great way to start the new year, and it sounds like a great book as well.

    • Cassie says:

      You definitely know by looking at the plate whether the Mexican food will be good or not. My boyfriend and I always walk in and look at the people’s plates and then decide if we want to eat there. I definitely don’t think this book is for everyone and honestly, I’m not sure the end at all justified the means. I could just recommend which stories you should read. :)

  3. Geoff W says:

    I’m not sure how original the style is so much as it is a splicing of all the different types. It was almost six independent short stories that happened to be connected and rather than playing them out chronologically Mitchell chose to write them out as a pyramid I think (up one side, start of the stories, down the other, end of the stories). Have you seen the film? I thought it really helped with the visual aspect, but the book added a few details I needed.

    I’m in love with Frobisher and am debating that quote for my literary quote tattoo one day :-D

    • Cassie says:

      I think I was thinking original in that one author attempted so many different genres and so many deep inner lives for different and relatable people. It was like a new, modern Canterbury Tales. Haha. Am I making sense? Frobisher was an ice cable character, maybe one of my favorites ever. Miss Havisham will always be number one in my heart though. :)

  4. christinasr says:

    I so badly want to read this novel – and even more so after reading your amazing review. Without having read the book, I still feel like your review captured the soul of the book. I have to read Ghostwritten first, though, I read somewhere that there are some characters from Ghostwritten who are also in Cloud Atlas.


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