What do you think?
Rate this book
530 pages, Kindle Edition
First published May 13, 2010
'Chief van Cleef,' Fischer calls after him, 'and I shall discuss your insolence!'
'It's a long way,' Ivo Oost smokes in a doorway, 'down to the bottom...'
'It is my signature,' Fischer shouts after him, 'that authorizes your wages!' (p. 166)
'"And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared..."'
The common run of chaplains is either too meek for so unruly a flock...
'"...and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved..."'
...or else, so zealous that the sailors ignore, scorn or vilify them.
'"...was then taken away. But after long abstinence Paul stood forth...'"
Chaplain Wily, an oysterman's son from Whistable, is a welcome exception.
We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love.
'Then this...'Jacob sweeps his hand inland '...this numinous Orient....its bells, its dragons, its millions...Here, notions of transmigrations, of karma, which are heresies at home, possess a...a...' The Dutchman sneezes.
'Bless you.' Marinus splashes rainwater on his face. 'A plausibility?'
Creation unfolds us, despite us and through us, at the speed of days and nights, and we like to call it 'Love'.
This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.
...So little is actually worthy of either belief or disbelief. Better to strive to co-exist, than seek to disprove...
A pickled dragon of Kandy bears an uncanny resemblance to Anna’s father, and Jacob recalls a fateful conversation with the gentleman in his Rotterdam drawing-room. Carriages passed by below, and the lamplighter was doing his rounds. ‘Anna has told me,’ her father began, ‘the surprising facts of the situation, de Zoet and I have, accordingly, enumerated your merits and demerits. In the credit column: you are a fastidious clerk of good character who has not abused his advantage over Anna’s affections. In the debit column, you are a clerk: not a merchant, not a shipper or even a warehouse-master, but a clerk. I don’t doubt your affection. But affection is merely the plum in the pudding: the pudding itself is wealth.Instead, Mitchell writes it this way:
[Jacob strolls from one pickled object to another as he recalls the unpleasant events of that day so long ago that has led him to this antechamber.] The Kandy dragon’s neighbour is a slack-jawed viper of the Celebes. A baby alligator from Halmahera has a demon’s delighted grin. The alligator’s umbilical cord is attached to its shell for all eternity. It was a posting to Halmahera from which Vorstenbosch rescued Jacob. A tortoise from the Island of Diego Garcia appears to be weeping. Jacob touches the jar of a Barbados lamprey with his broken nose. The lamprey’s O-shaped mouth is a grinding mill of razor-sharp Vs and Ws.
A pickled dragon of Kandy bears an uncanny resemblance to Anna’s father, and Jacob recalls a fateful conversation with the gentleman in his Rotterdam drawing-room. Carriages passed by below, and the lamplighter was doing his rounds. ‘Anna has told me,’ her father began, ‘the surprising facts of the situation, de Zoet …I found this brilliantly done and highly effective. One of the challenges of narrative is its linear structure. However, we don’t live or experience events in a completely linear way. We might be loading clothes into the washing machine and having a conversation or listening to the radio while driving. There is a subtle interplay between both while we experience them, but how do you communicate that with words on a page—an essentially linear experience? The conventional manner of writing deals with it by setting it out as distinct blocks but telling us that these two distinct blocks of narrative are occurring simultaneously (and so I had to add, “Jacob strolls from one pickled object to another as he recalls the unpleasant events of that day so long ago that has led him to this antechamber.”) However, when we read it, we experience it not as a participant in the simultaneity but as discrete and sequential events. Mitchell breaks down that wall. Jacob’s thought processes as he walks from one specimen jar to another are laid out as we see what he sees: Mitchell comes close to achieving the experience of simultaneity in a linear narrative, which is an amazing achievement. At the same time, it’s not confusing to us, we can follow what is going on.
The Kandy dragon’s neighbour is a slack-jawed viper of the Celebes.
‘… and I have, accordingly, enumerated your merits and demerits.
A baby alligator from Halmahera has a demon’s delighted grin.
‘In the credit column: you are a fastidious clerk of good character …
The alligator’s umbilical cord is attached to its shell for all eternity.
‘… who has not abused his advantage over Anna’s affections.
It was a posting to Halmahera from which Vorstenbosch rescued Jacob.
‘In the debit column, you are a clerk: not a merchant, not a shipper …
A tortoise from the Island of Diego Garcia appears to be weeping.
‘… or even a warehouse-master, but a clerk. I don’t doubt your affection.
Jacob touches the jar of a Barbados lamprey with his broken nose.
‘But affection is merely the plum in the pudding: the pudding itself is wealth.
The lamprey’s O-shaped mouth is a grinding mill of razor-sharp Vs and Ws.
Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlightOn Mitchell's Themes
Over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching
Entrails at the marketplace and escaping
Over cloistered gardens, spike topped walls and treble-bolted doors.
Gulls alight on whitewashed gables,
Creaking pagodas and dung-ripe stables;
Circle over towers and cavernous bells
And over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells,
Watched by mule-drivers, mules and wolf-snouted dogs,
Ignored by hunch-backed makers of clogs;
Gather speed up
The stoned-in Nakashima River and fly
Beneath the arches of its bridges,
Glimpsed from kitchen doors,
Watched by farmers
Walking high, stony ridges.
Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries' vats;
Over kites unthreading corpses of cats;
Over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns;
Over bath-house adulterers, heartbroken slatterns;
Fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs;
Their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs;
Woodcutters' sons sharpening axes;
Candle-makers rolling waxes;
Flint-eyed officials milking taxes;
Etiolated lacquerers; mottle-skinned dyers;
Imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars;
Weavers of mats; cutters of rushes;
Ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes;
Booksellers ruined by unsold books;
Ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers;
Filching page-boys; runny-nosed cooks;
Sunless attic nooks
Where seamstresses prick calloused fingers;
Lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses;
Heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses;
Prisoners haunted by happier lives
And ageing rakes by other men's wives;
Skeletal tutors goaded to fits;
Firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits;
Tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges;
Mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges;
Apothecaries grinding powders with mortars;
Palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters;
Silent nuns; nine-year-old whores;
The once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores;
Statues of Jizo anointed with posies;
Syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses;
Potters; barbers; hawkers of oil;
Tanners; cutlers; carters of night-soil;
Blacksmiths and drapers;
The newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant;
The ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant;
Over the roof of a painter withdrawn
First from the world, then his family, and
Down into a masterpiece that has, in the end,
Withdrawn from its creator; and
Around again, where their flight began,
Over the balcony of the Room of Last Chrysanthemum,
Where a puddle from last night's rain is evaporating;
A puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes
The blurred reflections of gulls
Wheeling through spokes of sunlight.
This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is
* "Ink, from his cracked ink pot, indigo rivulets and dribbling deltas…Ink, thinks Jacob, you most fecund of liquids..."
* "The moon was full an’ bright as the sun."
* “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love.”
* "Plums are piled in a terracotta dish, blue-dusted indigo."
* " ’I don’t know.’ Jacob thinks of Anna’s face by a rainy window, ‘I do not know.’"
* " We were, to quote the proverb, ‘The one dog who barks at nothing answered by a thousand dogs barking at something….’ "
* "There is no birdsong, he notices, in winter’s cage."
* "He wishes the human mind were a scroll that could be rolled up…"
* "How gleefully…life shreds our well-crafted plans."
* "A black-headed bird watches from the core of the flame red tree."
* "..ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books…."
* "The autumn sun is an incandescent marigold." (how stunning is that…)
* "Starlings fly in nebulae: like a child in a fairy-tale, Jacob longs to join them. Or else, he daydreams, let my round eyes become nomadic ovals…West to east, the sky unrolls and rolls in its atlas of clouds."
(very clever Mr. Mitchell, popping a reference to Cloud Atlas in there…the Mitchellverse is more subtle in this book, but it’s there).
* " The cat looks at her and miaows, Fee me, for I am beautiful."
* "The cat tells Orito that she is a poor dumb creature"
* " The moon-grey cat licks its paws and speaks in her father’s voice. ‘I know you’re a messenger’, says the dreamer, ‘but what is your message?’ "
* "The moon-grey cat vanishes into the mist as if it never existed."
If only, Shiroyama dreams, human beings were not masks behind masks. If only this world was a clean board of lines and intersections. If only time was a sequence of considered moves and not a chaos of slippages and blunders.