Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell has received ample praise and recognition (including a victory in The Morning News Tournament of Books, downing many worthy opponents and some unworthy, including me. It is an excellent book (though it takes a little while to get going), and he moves so easily across styles and times that is dazzling. he gets beyond dazzling however, with some very substantial character development and real emotional depth. The writing is brisk and rich, the plot engaging. You can almost hear the but coming, can't you?

Cloud Atlas reminds me exactly of Atonement, in that it is filled with excellence--great writing, rich imagination--both excellent, excellent books. But both are, I think, nearly ruined by their last two pages, where the imaginative gold of imagination turns to leaden message giving. "Here's what I meant with all of this," says Mitchell. "Here's how the pieces fit together." I started to cringe and am cringing still in some ways. And the worst part was that it didn't feel organic to the sly suggestiveness of the novel--it felt like the editor, holding a gun to the head of the author, and dictating a clarifying conclusion so that the sewing circle/reading groups could pat themselves on the back for having understood this big, hard book. Other people seem to have had less strong reactions to both books. I'll still give it 3.5 stars, but I may tear out the last two pages and give it 4. Here's the opening:
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.


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