Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reread: Cloud Atlas (by David Mitchell)

This is the first of the year's planned rereads. For this project, I chose books that I particularly loved and wanted to experience again.

Memory Reaction:

I'm stealing this format from BSC Revisited, where Kristen used to kick off her reviews with what she remembered about the book. What I remembered about Cloud Atlas: its structure, obviously. Its shifts into different voices, which are also different from his other books and impressed me as a tour de force. I remembered my favorite section being Sonmi's, with Frobisher or Luisa Rey as the runner-up. I did not remember Timothy Cavendish at all, and I recalled vague annoyance with the middle Sloosha section, possibly because it came after my favorite part. I remember being blown away.

Reread Reaction:

Sonmi's section was still my absolute favorite, especially the first half.  I found Frobisher to be quite Kinbotean (always a compliment) and  I loved the resolution to that story, I got into the middle section a lot more than I remembered having done before, and I still enjoyed Luisa Rey. The only section that I can't really figure out is the Timothy Cavendish section, which screws up the reincarnation timeline in addition to not really adding much that I can see. (Thoughts on this are welcome.) 

I had forgotten how explictly the parts of the book were linked, in terms of Frobisher finding the journal, Luisa finding the letters, Timothy reading the manuscript, etc. (It's also interesting how each section is told in a different way: a journal, letters, a novel, a movie version of a novel, an "orison," and an oral history.)

This time around what really struck me was Isaac Sachs's meditation on the nature of history. "The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent." This seems to directly connect to the book, where each section is seen as both the alive present (when you're reading it) and as constructed history (when the other characters find it). It transmutes, but it also contains truth. It's really quite wonderful.

It's true that some of it is a little heavy handed, such as the comet birthmark and the name Adam and even the explicit connections between the sections. But I loved digging into it thematically: the ascents and descents, the idea that other characters are involved (Frobisher's mentor dreams of Sonmi, for instance) and the parallels that can be drawn between the characters. Enjoyed it just as much the second time around.

Previous Review:

I waited until typing the above before going back to read my previous review, to see how they match up. Here it is, from October 2005. Wow, that long ago?

Ha, I ranked the sections almost identically, and even made the Frobisher = Kinbote connection. As predicted, Sloosha was my least favorite last time, but I had fewer issues with the dialect this time, and Cavendish has moved into that slot. Otherwise, my rankings would be the same.

Still an A+ novel, and happy that I reread it. My next reread: Brideshead Revisited. 

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