Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Set Of Russian Dolls

Just finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, the novel tipped to win the last Booker prize, although it was pipped to the post by Alan Hollingsworth's In The Line of Beauty.

Quite an amazing read - very daring! It's like a set of Russian dolls with one story nestling inside another story nestling inside ... . In all there are six novellas of equal length - covering a whole range of genres and text types - history, comedy, thriller and science-fiction ... journal, letters, memoir, best-seller, musical composition, interview and oral history. In a playful twist the protagonist of each story becomes the consumer of the story that has gone before. Our need for stories is part of our humanity, he seems to say - and always will be. Less savoury aspects of our humanity are explored through the stories - greed and consumerism, prejudice, exploitation and enslavement.

I must confess to having enjoyed The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish most. I don't often laugh out loud when I read, but this was deliciously, wickedly funny. Loved it where a disgruntled author encounters a critic who has written a particularly negative review, pitches him over the balcony. (Makes you wonder if there is an element of wishful thinking on Mitchell's part here!)

But ultimately It's Mitchell's skill with language that excites most - how does the guy manage to juggle so many styles, so many distinctive voices? In the final story Shoosha's Crossing and Everything After he creates a completely new post-apocolyptic dialect of English which is both plausible and poetic. In Half Lives - The First Luisa Rey Mystery he manages to write a thriller which conforms to all the characteristics of the genre (one which I generally hate)- but which is actually a great deal better written than many of the thrillers that make the best-seller list. He makes it look so effortless too. And I found myself underlining some of Timothy Cavendish's hilarious pronouncements because they delighted me so much. Can't resist slipping in a couple of my favourite lines here:

A trio of teenettes, dressed like Prostitute Barbie, approached, driftnetting the width of the pavement.

Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.

The only moan that I have about the book is that the Sceptre paperback version had print so small that it had me reaching for my reading glasses, and one of the least inspiring cover designs I've seen on a paperback in yonks.

1 comment:

Minamona said...

Hi Sharon!

Thanks to you, I managed to get a copy of Cloud Atlas for RM8 at the Times Warehouse sale.

I'm reading it now. But oh God, the print is so tiny and it didn't help that I found the first story (Pacific Journals) so tedious to read.

But, I carried on because of you and also AS Byatt who wrote in his review of the book, "David Mitchell entices his readers on to a rollercoaster, and at first they wonder if they want to get off. Then - at least in my case - they can't bear the journey to end."

I felt exactly like that -- do i really want to "wrestle" in the ring with this author? Should I just leave it in the pile of half-read books (which is growing quite high, actually...blame it on my short attention span!)

But I'm glad i stuck to it. Am now reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Letters from Zedelghem.

And, what do you know, right in the middle of it, David Mitchell himself comes out (in the form of Robert Frobisher, of course)and says, "a half-read book is a half-finished love affair," as though reinforcing my decision...heheh!

He's absolutely brilliant!

Thanks again, Sharon...Hope you'll continue doing your reviews and recommend books...