This novel deals with six nested (and interrelated) stories that transcend time, place, culture, literary style, language, and format. The main theme...moreThis novel deals with six nested (and interrelated) stories that transcend time, place, culture, literary style, language, and format. The main theme throughout is humanity's battle with its dual nature, predator/prey. Should one succumb to the ruthlessness and exploitation needed for survival, or rise above--attempting to heal a broken world with kindness, albeit only minimally?
Something that I felt took away from the book was that the connection between stories was at times ambiguous and/or seemingly tenuous. My impression is that this was done intentionally by the author, leaving subtle breadcrumbs for the reader, tempting them to delve deeper in order to understand the multi-leveled plot. This is one of those books where you gain a new perspective each time through. So in this respect, what it asks of the reader is a considerably tall order.
I also found the characters and plot of the 2nd/4th story hard to feel invested in, but that is merely a personal opinion.
The language of stories 1 and 6 (most distant past and future) took some getting used to, but also added to their authenticity--impressively so.
Perhaps my harshest criticism of this book is the ending of my favorite story (the 5th). It was largely rushed, contradictory, and unsatisfying. I doubt an author of David Mitchell's caliber commits these "errors" without the errors being (somehow?) the aim. While most likely intentional, this element was detracting nevertheless.
Mitchell is truly a master craftsman of literature and language. I would strongly recommend this book solely because of it's ingenuity, but it was also very beautiful in parts. The narrative showcases humanity's brutality and tenderness side-by-side and cyclically, in a way that provokes a deep sense of responsibility, and somehow hope as well.(less)
Dorothy is the pious and obedient daughter of a clergyman in a small town in 1930s England. Pushed to the breaking point by the unending litany of her...moreDorothy is the pious and obedient daughter of a clergyman in a small town in 1930s England. Pushed to the breaking point by the unending litany of her daily tasks, she experiences a psychotic break. Lost literally, figuratively, and spiritually, she embarks on a journey to get back home and to herself. Due to her gender and the power of money she finds herself controlled and exploited at every turn. She struggles to establish a sense of stability, and even manages to dream of a life with meaning.
The novel has a cyclical nature, where she finds herself where she began--but this is only true superficially. Beneath the surface she is a completely different person--aware, self-possessed, and faithless.
There are some remarkably visceral descriptions of hunger, fatigue, and exposure to the elements. I doubt anyone would read this novel and not feel differently towards the homeless afterwards. There is also some interesting commentary on the purpose and practice of education. Another work from George Orwell that is both beautifully and tragically human.(less)