A friend gifted two books for my birthday this year – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and Mao II by Don DeLillo. Mumsy is always in search of new reading material and had Mao II in her hot little hands before I could even read the back cover of either book. Later that day, I found her in the early pages of the book, right at the point where a book begins to reveal its true nature. She lifted her head at my entrance with the look of dread and panic written across her face and said simply, “It’s intellectual.”
Let me interject here to say until this point, Mumsy and I had subsisted on a reading diet of what can only be described as “candy books” for far too long. Books that have no sustenance for the brain or soul except for a catchy storyline or characters that take you temporarily away from your everyday world. We all read, and sometimes need to read, such books and in our cases, we had begun to feel unsatisfied with our choices. Picking up Mao II for Mumsy could be best equated to a surprise visit to the Biggest Loser ranch for a diet of turkey bacon, whole grain pasta, and salads galore and an intense four-hour workout in the gym. While Mumsy moaned and groaned through the first 20 pages, like the Biggest Loser contestants, she began to crave, then extol, the virtues of the nutrient-rich literature.
I too needed a “candy book” detox and picked up Cloud Atlas ready for whatever may come, promising myself to persevere even if it involved slogging through dense passages, arcane vocabulary, or rampant symbolism. Because I had no clue what I was getting myself into based on this description on the back cover:
A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles and genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
I consider myself a voracious reader but my recent lack of breadth of styles and authors became quite evident when none of the above made any sense to me. Challenge: accepted.
The first 20+ pages of the book delivered arcane vocabulary by the bucket-load and my brain ate up the whole-grain richness of language with glee. Then everything changed and continued evolving as the story unfolded. Mitchell’s mastery of language from the arcane to the futuristic blew my mind away. I am hesitant to go any farther with my review for fear of taking away the surprises and puzzles, and thus the joys of their discovery and resolution. But let’s just say that while reading the first half of the book, the words “I have no idea what this book is about.” have never been said with such happiness and awe.
Tess, the Lioness
P.S. Said friend from the beginning of this tale is an avid reader and movie watcher so it should have come as no surprise to me when Mumsy forwarded an article about the premiere of Cloud Atlas, the movie, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) a few weeks ago. Being 75% through the book at the time, the reviews of the movie were also quite expected. Translating any book with an unusual, and perhaps a tad complex, structure and language to the silver screen had to be quite the challenge to the screenwriter and director. Will I see the movie when released in theaters? I am leaning towards no as I doubt the visions created on the screen will live up to the ones created in my mind.
UPDATE: A friend who writes a movie review blog was able to see an advanced preview of Cloud Atlas and has written up his thoughts and critique here.