Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Thanks to the Maharani for jumping right in to host the November BC.  We caught up on the month's gossip over wine and a cheese platter, followed by the perfect fall meal:  Ina Garten's beef short ribs (falling off the bone!) with potatoes and, heavens, some delish dessert that is escaping poor El Jefe's overtaxed memory at the moment.  El Jefe does recall, however, the stunning arrangement of seasonal branches and leaves in the center of the Maharani's kitchen island!  Beautiful!  Maharani, you can host BC any time!

On to the book, as, given the late hour, El Jefe needs to keep this short (unlike Sloosha's Crossing, which was anything but...)

David Mitchell's tour de force Cloud Atlas scored a 7.3.  Let's break this down a bit further.  Now, this was an extremely difficult piece of literature to sink one's teeth into, and indeed there were two of our fearless band who did not make it to the main course and therefore abstained from rating.  A lowball 3 from the Maharani was paired with 8s and even a 9 from the rest of us.  An interesting dichotomy.  This book was comprised of six separate stories that shared certain thematic connections and were organized for the first half of the book in chronological order, and for the second half in reverse chronological order--with Sloosha's Crossing at the apex (or nadir).  The characters, plots and linguistic styles ranged from a Melvillian sailing expedition from the 1800s featuring questionable physicians and aboriginal stowaways, to the modern day rise and fall of a British book publisher cum old folks home prisoner, to a heart-wrenching tale of violence and survival set in post-Apocalyptic Hawaii and written entirely in a made-up pidgin dialect.  Phew!  So what did we make of all this?  Clearly Mitchell was not entirely successful in interweaving these tales.  The low rating was given on account of the stories failing to relate to each other in a coherent way and a lack of payoff (understandable that one would be looking for a payoff given how difficult it was to get through this book!).  On the other hand, high marks were given for the sheer literary achievement of Cloud Atlas and its many inventive features.  True, not everything was spelled out (in fact, most things weren't).  For example, what the heck was going on with those comet-shaped birthmarks sported by one character in each story?  To some, the birthmarks were an annoying and unsatisfactory gimmick.  However, as Ms. K. insightfully noted, even though they were not fully explained, the birthmarks might have symbolized death and reincarnation, a central theme of the book.  Overall, it seemed like the amount of enjoyment taken from this book was influenced by the reader's expectation, and perhaps the best way to read Cloud Atlas is with no expectation at all, just a willingness to go to whatever time and place the author takes you.

Interestingly, the motion picture feature was released the same week, to mixed reviews.  How about the casting?

Tom Hanks as a goatherd survivalist;  he also plays the nuclear physicist Isaac Sachs

 Halle Berry as Luisa Rey;  she also plays Meronym in the Sloosha chapter

Ben Whishaw as the composer Robert Frobisher;  also plays the record store clerk who helps Louisa Rey find a copy of the Cloud Atlas Sextet

 Jim Broadbent, playing Timothy Cavendish the book publisher;  also plays the composer who takes Robert Frobisher as his apprentice

Still confused?  Here's a guide to all the characters!

Our next meeting is, oops, today, that is, in 18 short hours.  It's the annual holiday BC at the Highlander's house.  Hopefully everyone knows their dinner assignments and has practiced their magic tricks (and, of course, read the book--we never said this wasn't a high maintenance book club!).  See you very, very soon.  xoej

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