Update 7/28/2012: So when I first heard the Wachowskis were planning to make a movie of this, I was incredibly skeptical. It's super ambitious, I thinUpdate 7/28/2012: So when I first heard the Wachowskis were planning to make a movie of this, I was incredibly skeptical. It's super ambitious, I think, to try to translate a novel that focuses so much on literary techniques into another medium. But now the trailer's been released, and I've gotta say -- it looks pretty fucking awesome.
Thoughts? The more I watch it the less it looks like the book to me, but I'm still pretty excited. I may well end up hating it, though.
If I could give this book a million stars, I would. It is an absolute masterpiece.
I tend to like experimental, postmodern fiction with a good gimmick, but it's not enough to make a book great. Most of the time, I end up thinking "Well, the author had some cool ideas, but..." No. There is no "but" when it comes to this novel. The concept of 6 nested novellas - taking place in completely different time periods, with different characters, and each written in a different style - sounds seriously gimmicky, but Mitchell is such an excellent writer that the different narratives work together flawlessly. The voice of each section is so distinct, you would never guess they were all written by the same author if the stories had been published separately. What's even more astonishing is that each of the 6 stories, though very different, are all excellent. While this isn't exactly a short story anthology, allow me the liberty of a comparison - I have never read a short story anthology in which each piece was great on its own. There are always one or two stories, included to flesh out the collection, that just aren't very good. This is far from the case with Cloud Atlas. None of the storylines stand out as being better than the others, and none is forgotten by way of being mediocre. Each story seems better than the last, until you reach the midpoint and the order reverses, and then somehow each one is STILL better than the last. It defies science.
I knew next to nothing about this book going in, except that it came highly recommended by a friend (whose tastes I didn't even know, but I decided to trust him). My reaction while reading basically went like this:
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Pt. 1) - Wait, what is this? Epistolary historical fiction? Why did I keep seeing this book on science fiction and dystopia lists? I'm not really into this stuff... Hey, this is kind of interesting. It's written beautifully, in any case. I'm getting into it. Hold up! Why does it just end in the middle of a sentence? Am I missing a page?
Letters From Zedelghem (Pt. 1) - Well now I'm in a brand-new story apparently and have no idea what's going on. I wish I knew what the hell happened to Adam Ewing. That story was good. Wait, Adam Ewing Who? Now I'm super invested in this mysterious disowned wannabe playboy composer! Robert Frobisher, that's one hell of a name. And the reason the previous story ended so suddenly was because he found the book that was torn in half? You genius, David Mitchell, you.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Pt. 1) - An eco-mystery? Seriously? Hey, I like this Luisa girl, she's spunky. Oh no, cliffhanger!
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Pt. 1) - Aburd, Kafka-esque, hilarious. This is my favorite so far.
An Orison of Sonmi-451 (Pt. 1) - Sorry, did I say the last one was my favorite? No, this is my favorite. Clones on death row, y'all. You know I love a good dystopia. And this is an excellent one, with a wonderfully imagined future world. Oh crap, another cliffhanger? David Dearie, why you gotta play me like that?
Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After - Oh no actually, now this one is my favorite. Post-apocalyptic Hawaii? Who comes up with that? And they worship.... Oh noooo, I did not see that coming. The dialect is kind of A Clockwork Orange meets The Color Purple meets Firefly, but it works. And then perfect segway back to...
An Orison of Sonmi-451 (Pt. 2) - I changed my mind again. Screw Zachry, this makes Sonmi my favorite again. THIS BOOK NEEDS TO STOP GETTING BETTER WITH EVERY PAGE OR MY HEAD WILL IMPLODE. What, another perfect segway to Timothy Cavendish?
I seriously don't understand how it's possible to write a novel this good. It's totally unique, with fleshed-out characters, beautiful language (varying from proper 19th century correspondence to invented far-future pidgin), amazing storylines, all wrapped up in individual nested gift-wrapped boxes with bows that would make Martha Stewart proud. I almost wish I could erase it from my memory in order to have the pleasure of reading it for the first time again. This book is perfection. I hope the rest of Mitchell's work lives up to this standard, because I am going to go out and buy everything he's ever written in hopes that it's as good....more
I really, really don't want kids. I made that decision long before I ever picked up We Need To Talk About Kevin, but reading it certainly didn't helpI really, really don't want kids. I made that decision long before I ever picked up We Need To Talk About Kevin, but reading it certainly didn't help change my mind.
This book explores a lot of controversial subjects, which goes a long way towards explaining the love-it-or-hate-it review divide. Motherhood is expected of women -- generally all women, even today -- and they're expected to have this innate knowledge, to know all the rules, do the best with what they're given, have all the answers when developmental psychologists still don't know what questions they're even asking... overcome all these obstacles and raise normal, productive members of society. It's a thankless job and enormous load to bear. Yet society actively shames women who are self-aware enough to admit that's not the lifestyle they want. Or like Eva Katchadourian, the protagonist of Lionel Shriver's novel, they're pressured into raising children by spouses who see continuing their lineage as life's only goal.
Sure, people who have children do it for a variety of reasons, and I'm sure most find it immensely rewarding. But what happens when your child is a little shit practically from birth, and as the years go on it becomes apparent that this is not just a phase? In fact, the behavioral problems steadily get worse. How do you love a child who regularly makes your life hell and seems to have no redeeming characteristics? Eva grapples with this horrible reality throughout the novel:
"What possessed us? We were so happy! Why, then, did we take the stake of all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? You consider the very putting of the question profane. Although the infertile are entitled to sour grapes, it's against the rules, isn't it, to actually have a baby and spend any time at all on that banished parallel life in which you didn't."
Kevin is obviously a bright kid, but he has no interests. Straight B's in school, just enough to fly under the radar and avoid being singled out by way of being too smart or too dumb. He watches the weather channel for hours on end. He makes strange fashion statements by wearing clothing 5 sizes too small. He has no friends, but he's not bullied either -- in fact, the other students at his high school seem to go out of their way to avoid him. He torments his younger sister, who gradually becomes afraid of everything. Eva senses that there's something not right with their son, but her husband refuses to consider Kevin as anything but a perfect little angel -- all kids have quirks, and boys will be boys, right?
There are thousands of red flags, but unfortunately only hindsight is 20/20. Of course, when Kevin slaughters eight people in his high school gym just before his sixteenth birthday, it's his mother that's blamed.
I'll admit that I didn't love the first few chapters of this, though. There's no question that Shriver is a gifted writer, but she obviously has a well-thumbed thesaurus and the prose is peppered with SAT words, which I wasn't sure suited the epistolary format. That's some damn flowery language for some letters to an ex-husband, and it didn't read as natural to me. However, as I became more engrossed in the story the writing style grew on me, and it all made sense by the end.
All in all, this definitely made an impact, hence the 5-star rating. An awful, horrible story, but very topical (though perhaps not as much as it was ten years ago), and one I'm sure will stick with me. Definitely recommended....more
Meh. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. I thought the "everyday apocalypse" aspect was refreshing - I'm sure not eveMeh. The best thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. I thought the "everyday apocalypse" aspect was refreshing - I'm sure not every day after a cataclysmic event contains an epic battle between starving survivors in a bleak wasteland, a trope that occasionally makes me tire of post-apocalyptic novels. But as it turns out, without scenes like that a slow apocalypse is pretty damn boring.
Boring is pretty bad, but that's not my only complaint here. I've heard criticisms that the narrative voice didn't feel real, but I actually thought the writing style was pretty authentic as far as (intelligent, reading, writing) teenage girls' journals go. My journal around that age read very similarly. Of course, whiny teenagers with petty problems (before the event especially) and embarrassing obsessions (that male figure skater? really?) are not always my favorite things to read. There's a reason I shredded my own journals when I found them a few years ago. Shit like that is mortifying.
There's also a weird, possibly slightly sexist bent in the novel. There's this assumption by the family (and Miranda herself), that Miranda won't make it, and she's the one who should be sacrificed, and thus should eat less food, etc. than the rest of them. Why was she considered the useless one? I can't remember how many years younger than Miranda her brother Jonny was supposed to be, but in some cases he was even treated older! A few times Miranda mentioned having to be inside while the two boys were chopping wood - um, why couldn't she chop wood too? Instead, she gets laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, which she even refers to once as "women's work". I swear, at some points I felt like I might be reading a novel set in the 1800's. Maybe the author did this on purpose so then later when she becomes the hero it's more of a character change, but it seriously irritated me.
What really turned me off, though, is the obvious lack of science in this book. Normally I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but for a novel that's presumably set in our world and reality-based, some things just didn't ring true as I was reading. Then, in a group discussion here on GR, one of the author's blog posts came up. In it she basically brags about not doing research and "just guessing" at what might happen. Seriously, in this day and age, you can't spend half an hour googling some scientific facts to improve your writing and make your speculation more believable? That's fine if it's what you want to do, but I can't reward lazy writing with a good review.
I realize my review is overwhelmingly negative and maybe I should be giving it one star, but I try to reserve that for books I really hated. This one does have a lot of issues, but the plot was decent and I never felt tempted to abandon it, so two stars it is....more
Eh, parts of this were good, other parts were boring. I could practically hear Jonathan Safran Foer patting himself on the back every couple of pagesEh, parts of this were good, other parts were boring. I could practically hear Jonathan Safran Foer patting himself on the back every couple of pages for being such a special snowflake. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was better....more