Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas and Family Matters



During the Thanksgiving break, at GH's parents' home in Cincinnati, I spotted a heavily discounted copy of Cloud Atlas at Kroger's and could not resist getting it. Sorry, take a number, Laura Riding. David Mitchell's novel is ingeniously constructed, six stories nestled in one another like Matryoshka dolls. Each story plays with the conventions of a particular genre, so "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" is a Melvillian sea yarn, "Letters from Zedelghem" is an epistolary novel about a young music genius, "Half Lives: the First Luisa Rey Mystery" proclaims it is a thriller in its title, "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" is a Borgesian story about intertexuality, "An Orison of Sonmi-451" is a piece of dystopian sci-fi, and "Sloosha's Crossin' an Ev'rything After" is a post-apocalypse island tale.

Though the overall construction is brilliant, the individual stories run the risk of sounding overly familiar, and so lose the reader. The ingenuity also tends to over-shadow genuine human passions. Of the six stories, only the relationship between Robert Frobisch and his correspondent Rufus Sixsmith in "Letters" sounds any depth. The ending of the novel, in which Adam Ewing preaches about the need for cooperation if the human race is to survive, sounds didactic and simplistic, if it is not intended to be ironical in a postmodernist way.

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I finished reading Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters at the end of summer. I have been meaning to blog about it but kept putting it off. It's hard to do justice to the delicacy with which Mistry depicts the humilations of growing old and useless, and the tragicomedy of seeing a family cope with an aged father. Suffice to say, perhaps, that Family Matters may lack the scope of his A Fine Balance, but it trains its microscope to detect all our human squirmings.

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