Thursday, July 07, 2005

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This novel is ingenious. After complaining about a couple of novels that alternate storylines, I enjoyed reading one that pulled it off really well. I think part of what I liked was the sections were not alternating first person, and they were incredibly distinct from each other, yet linked in clever ways. The structure is modeled on those Russian nesting dolls (I’m always telling students they can’t use that image in stories anymore because it’s been overdone, but here because he uses the structure and not the image, it feels very fresh) and so you don’t bounce back and forth between storylines. You see the first half of each storyline (ABCD) and then with the exception of the middle section which you see in total (E--my least favorite) you see the conclusion to each storyline (DCBA). Most amazingly each section is in a different style of writing—journal, epistolary, mystery, sci-fi… and yet each voice is equally convincing and intriguing (okay, except for the sci-fi middle, but I suspect that was mainly personal preference). The structure, of course, isn’t enough to make the novel work. The structure makes it fresh and adds a layer of meaning, but it’s the rest of the writing—character, plot, suspense, language—that makes it really work. For sure I will teach this book in the future.

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