I don't remember what prevented me from reading Mitchell before, despite having another of his novels (Ghostwritten) on loan for several months. It waI don't remember what prevented me from reading Mitchell before, despite having another of his novels (Ghostwritten) on loan for several months. It was the opening, probably; Mitchell seems to begin with voices that I find mildly uninteresting, though I've only tried twice to read him.
What seemed to be a foggy beginning for Cloud Atlas wasn't, it turns out. Ewing is pleasantly reminiscent of Crusoe and Ishmael, and so I agreed to push through what seemed like a smug imitation of nostalgic-albeit-tedious travel narrative classics. The smugness revealed itself to be playfulness; by the time I arrived at the second, wholly unrelated chapter (different time, different voice), I was very ready to enjoy the gimmick of the book's structure. Note that "gimmick," here--given Mitchell's talent--can only be spoken with a tone of admiration; as the subsequent chapters began to neatly reference the previous chapters, I was hooked.
The book, because of its many voices, feels satisfyingly epic. Because of Mitchell's cunning, the book also feels whole, with its various plots interwoven, but not to excess. The connections that exist between chapters range from being wonderfully almost-believable (the half-journal holding up a bed-frame) to forgiveably underdeveloped (the reappearing, inexplicable comet).
What the critics say about Mitchell's ability to seamlessly jump from genre to genre seems spot-on. His imitative abilities are impeccable, due maybe to his frightening attention to "period detail" in word-choice. He also very successfully hides any underlying common voice of his own; I'm curious about what he sounds like when he writes as himself.
In the end, Mitchell avoided the major danger I sort of expected to come about from relying so heavily on elaborate genre-jumping: descending too frequently into a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the various genres being referenced. Cloud Atlas was particularly fun, I think, because Mitchell seems to hold quite a bit of fondness for the sources of his inspiration; he doesn't seem to mock, ever....more
Midnight's Children is not at all a fast read; it actually walks the line of being unpleasantly the opposite. The prose is dense and initially frustraMidnight's Children is not at all a fast read; it actually walks the line of being unpleasantly the opposite. The prose is dense and initially frustrating in a way that seems almost deliberate, with repeated instances of the narrator rambling ahead to a point that he feels is important--but then, before revealing anything of importance, deciding that things ought to come in their proper order. This use of digressions (or, better put, quarter-digressions) can either be attributed to a charmingly distractable narrator or a vehicle for (perhaps cheaply) tantalizing the reader... or both.
I'll admit that at first I didn't appreciate being so persistently manipulated. Many times in the first few chapters I found myself closing the book in anger, thinking to myself "If the story is worth it, this tactic is utterly unnecessary."
The tactic, it turns out, is unnecessary. The book--the story--is stunning. It's stunning enough that the frustrating aspects of the telling are forgivable and actually retrospectively satisfying (which I suspect is what the author wanted). While the fractional digressions, on the one hand, can have you groping around for a lighter--they, on the other hand, work to accustom you to the novel's epically meandering pace. Also, they effectively allow you to feel a certain urgency near the end of the book, as the narrator "runs out of time."
The imagery is lush; the characters are curiously, magically lopsided; the language is complicated and beautiful; the chapters are nicely portioned despite the initial plodding pace; the narrative is deliberately allegorical, which perhaps suggests an enhanced enjoyment of the work after studying a bit of Indian history. Elements of the story's frame (the narrator writing in a pickle factory with sweet Padma reading along) are particularly amusing, and the chapter entitled "In the Sundarbans" is nothing short of breathtaking.
The book will go slow in the beginning; the book means to; give it patience--it's worth it, I think....more