Thursday, 9 June 2011

Cloud Atlas


When I go on holiday I tend to buy fairly cheap books that I can just leave behind and reduce my luggage weight. Cloud Atlas was one that didn’t turn out to be the usual holiday, poolside, easy read. I found it a fairly difficult book to read but I persevered and it was well worth the effort.

It was hard to get used to the first part of the book which was told in diary style and in old English language. I was tempted to give up but just as I got to grips with it and started to get really interested in the characters, the story ended mid sentence and the next page was a different story! I thought I’d bought a book with pages missing. Well it was very cheap! I checked and there was no list of chapters so I had to flick through the book to look at the sections. I found that it was actually six stories and that this one would pick up later in the book, so I persevered.

All the stories are told in different styles, structures, language and grammar. All include a range of characters in varying times and places each having some connection to the others.  Structurally it is unusual as five of the stories are split into two sections and are told in chronological order. The sixth is told in one single reading. The other five are then completed in reverse order ending with the first one. Yes, confusing!

The first is set in the mid 19th century on a ship in the Pacific and is told by an American notary in diary style. The second is set between the First and Second World Wars in Belgium and is a series of letters from a musician to his first love. The third is a thriller style story set in 1970s California about a journalist trying to uncover big business corruption.  The fourth is my favourite, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish which is set in modern day Britain. Timothy Cavendish, an aging publisher, is in debt and trying to flee from thugs. He ends up incarcerated in a Draconian old people’s care home with some really funny dialogue and situations. The fifth story is set in Korea with a clone bred for service in a fast food chain being interviewed prior to her execution. The sixth story is told completely and is set in post apocalyptic Hawaii. I found this pretty savage and the most difficult to follow due to the language style. It's reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn but certainly not a light read.  After this the author then returns to complete the five stories going back in time to the first. Confused? Well so was I for a while.

I suppose the main theme of all the stories is about power and the tendency of the strong to oppress the poor or weaker. It also concerns greed, prejudice, slavery, environmental issues and friendship. There are some very depressing sections about man’s inhumanity to their fellow man and woman but there are also some hilarious sections.

This book is no easy read but it’s cleverly constructed, very well written, thought provoking and I have to say I did enjoy it. The mark of a good book for me is one I learn something from and makes me really think. This book certainly meets those criteria and I brought it home with me. I’ll definitely read it again!

What's a Gansey?

                                                Photograph courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums It's a seaman's kni...