cloud atlas is everything i hoped it would be and more. if i had mr. mitchell’s literary genius, i just might be able to do it justice. given the actual state of things, that’s not going to happen. if you don’t trust me, read any of a hundred glowing reviews.
let me begin by saying that i have been a fan of david mitchell ever since ghostwritten, his first novel. in that book, he did something that captivated and inspired (even if it fell just a tad short for some). he picked up on a theme that has fascinated me for years – connectedness: the invisible connections between people, places, events. history chronicles some of them, but most are relegated to the entropic scrap heap of the universe. he wrote a novel that connected the dots; it was still arresting, even if the lines were dotted.
cloud atlas picks up that thread and weaves a dark tapestry, one that alternately depresses, amuses and enthralls.
<some minor spoilers follow>
the unconsoled is only the second book i’ve read by kazuo ishiguro. the first of his that i read, remains of the day, still stands as one of my top ten books of all time. i wish i could say the same about this effort.
while stylistically flawless with pitch-perfect prose, the story left me uninspired. my first and foremost complaint was length – did the novel have to be so long? i felt like things hardly changed after the first 100 pages, and yet i had to slog through 400 more. i kept expecting some light to pull me out of the darkness, but it never came.
i won’t bother with a synopsis. you can find it on amazon.
the thing that i still wonder is, what was ishiguro’s point? why did he write this novel? to illustrate the endless self-absorption of people? to illustrate how our best efforts at self-effacing politeness are ultimately selfish and destructive? each of the characters of this story toil through life with only their own interests at heart. they seem soulless and charmless, with few redemptive qualities.
i just don’t know. i barely finished the book, and was so relieved when i did. i will read him again, but it’s going to be hard to do it without severe skepticism.
life is a precious thing. we all struggle to preserve it, whether or not we realize this truth. march of the penguins, a french documentary, illustrates the point that no matter how hard you think your life is, the emperor penguins have it much, much harder.
when i was a kid, i consumed anything and everything related to nature: jacques cousteau, national geographic, audobon society books, camping and hiking around southern california. i’ve always been a sucker for anything related to the natural world, so it stands to reason that i should fall for nature documentaries.
this one is different.
i was skeptical about zhang yimou’s film hero. i’m not entirely sure why. maybe it was because i thought that, after several other films that looked to be of this ilk, another director was trying to capitalize on the “kung-fu art film” phenomenon in America (e.g., Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
ok, maybe he was, but he did a brilliant job of it (despite his less-than-stellar follow-up house of flying daggers, a visually stunning tale that hewed just a bit too close to its dragon-born antecedent).
hero is not just visually stunning; it’s also a powerful historical tale fueled by romance, deception, and betrayal. the performances are amazing, the action choreography is excellent, the cinematrography is superior…i’m stumbling over myself to find more superlatives.
iain banks has a universe inside his head. probably more than one. who knows. at the very least, he has one with a multi-species civilization called the Culture, comprised of a few trillion people living a few tens of thousands of years down the road. they’re spread across the galaxy, and when not pursuing their wildest dreams (since poverty, money, disease, and internecine conflict have all been eradicated), they are engaged in a vast philanthropic effort to help those civilizations who aren’t quite as, shall we say, well off.
he’s written a number of things involving the Culture:
- the state of the art (collected short stories and a novella)
- consider phlebas
- use of weapons
- player of games
- inversions (apparently only vaguely Culture-related)
- look to windward
the last ostensible book in his Culture novels is look to windward, and it’s a fitting finish to a remarkable series, especially given that the first Culture novel was consider phlebas, both of which refer to a few lines from Eliot’s Waste Land:
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
[NOTE: i will make no attempt to analyze the philosophical underpinnings of The Waste Land, Banks’ works, and the connection between them – i leave this task to far braver (and perhaps more presumptuous) souls.]
and now, my review (and possible spoilers) follow…
the results are in: san francisco is the 34th most expensive place to live in the world. given the fact that elaine and i seem to be struggling to buy a house (despite a more-than-decent combined income), i guess i’d have to say i’m a little surprised.
a few cities in that list seem like they should fall a little lower than SF (Istanbul, Douala, Lagos). i only say this because Elaine and I have been idly pondering moving elsewhere, thinking that the housing madness that has gripped SF is a localized phenomenon. based on that list, it looks like we’re wrong. strictly speaking, that listing is a reflection of total cost of living (not just housing), so there may be other things at play. even so, we may not be moving as quickly as we might have thought.