Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Notes From the Nightstand: Cloud Atlas

I have this other blog where I try to keep track of stuff that I'm reading, but I haven't posted there since March. Having two blogs maybe doesn't work very well for me, but I still do want to bore you with my opinions on literature, so I think I'm just going to start rolling those posts in over here.

I just finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry (among many other fine actors) is out in theaters right now, so even if you haven't heard of the book you may have seen the trailers.

The book is total genius. It's six short stories nested inside one another, each in a different time period and told in a different voice/literary genre. The stories end abruptly at the height of the plot, and then are referenced in some way in the next story - as a journal or letters discovered by a subsequent character, as a manuscript sent to a publisher, as an old movie viewed in a distant future. All of the main characters have the same comet-shaped birthmark on their shoulders, and it's implied that they are reincarnations of the same soul. At the end of the sixth story, which is the middle of the book, the novel backs itself out the way it came in, finishing up each story's plot line in backwards order from the way they were initially presented. So Cloud Atlas begins and ends with "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing." A lot of reviews of the book describe it as a stack of Russian nesting matryoshka dolls, and I also think that's a perfect metaphor.

I have never read a book like this before. It's truly amazing and innovative. It's funny, thrilling, horrific, philosophical, tender. It's an amazing accomplishment. I can't recommend it enough.

I haven't seen the film, although I want to.  I've seen mixed reviews, so I'm very curious to check it out for myself. Movies, of course, are rarely as lovable as the books they were made from, and it would be an incredible feat to squeeze this vast story into a film's length. The imagery in the trailers and the repeated use of the actors in different roles looks amazing, so I'm sure my curiosity will win out.

Read the book, though. Then go see the movie if you want. That's always the best advice.

And if you're dying to buy me a present (Christmas?), Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is on my wish list!

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