brian 's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
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Sep 20, 2012

it was ok

pile story atop story, set 'em in different time periods, offer up a thin connection between each, and everything seems a bit more than it is. for me cloud atlas is exactly the sum of its parts. maybe less? (i'd love to hire 6 authors to independently write 6 stories set in different time periods, throw the whole mess together as one work, and watch people find all kinds of connections and deeper meanings. they would. they could.)

now don't get me wrong, i love all that 'russian doll' tale-within-a-tale borgesian-wormhole fuckoff, but the fact remains: all that clever stuff is worthless if not in service of a few well told tales (or some seriously innovative ideas: while mitchell has fun with a clever structure, there ain't nothing innovative here. see: borges, calvino, dick, joyce, etc). and this is where mitchell falters. a trite story about corporate intrigue? post-apocalyptic 'primitives' scavenging through the ruins of our time? sci-fi story about an 'almost human' finding her (more than) humanity in a futuristic corpocracy? a 'misunderstanding' gag right out of three's company to resolve frobisher's tale? impossible to unring a bell, but would it were, i'd challenge any five-starrer to jump back & read these stories as standalones: they're weak. and, no: the thread holding 'em all together just ain't enough to elevate five mediocres to one great. if you're gonna throw out some of that 'deliberately cliched' nonsense, back it up. 100 yrs earlier mr. joyce included a deliberately poorly written chapter in ulysses… with reason. am i overlooking something, oh legions of mitchell devotees? if so, dish. admitting the luisa rey chapter is shite but explaining that it was meant to be shite just don't cut it.

david foster wallace complained that television had become impossible to critique in that it critiques itself: i.e. those t.v. ads, 'don't just sit there. okay, just sit there.' it betrays enormous & self-aware insecurity on the part of the 'television people': rather than polish the turd, they joke about how turdish the turd really is. and, by extension, what a willing turd-swallower YOU are. but it's all good as it's in the guise of a fun, knowing riff on the (hyper)truth, ain't it? well, mitchell employs similar trickery. authorial dogwhistles blow all over the place in the guise of postmodern 4th-wall-breaking innovation. and i call fraud. loudly. if borges ever asked and/or apologized to the reader about a story rather than get that story in top-fucking-notch shape… i'd slap that blind bastard across his jowly cheeks. (and, yes, this kinda stuff can work if it was more the point, a kind of Greek Chorus commenting on the narrative; but as a few asides drawing the reader out & excusing the text? oh, just fuckoff.) when one character writes this about his musical composition:

”a sextet for overlapping soloists”….each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?

i wanted to kick mr. mitchell in the shins.
if ya wanna read a less middlebrow & mediocre tale of reincarnated lives told over different periods of history in which our protagonists are linked by a common birthmark (no, really. the same birthmark gag. i'm not shitting you)… check out mishima's 'Sea of Fertility' tetralogy*.

a. hemon's article in the the new yorker on the making of the movie makes me root for it, but i predict a maudlin & turgid turd of epic proportions.

* Spring Snow
Runaway Horses
The Temple of Dawn
The Decay of the Angel
(read 'em!)
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02/04/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 59) (59 new)


message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I haven't read so broadly and deeply as you, so this would probably blow me away (in a good way, like you and David do for each other).


Jason Ifer's gonna love this review. I think it must come down to whether the self-referential shout-outs seemed gimmicky to the reader or felt amusing/clever. They definitely amused me. Kind of like on Roseanne, when the old Becky and the new Becky appeared alternately on the same episode, and the Barrs made self-referential jokes about it.

HAHAHA

was my feeling.


message 3: by David (new)

David I can't help it. I love take-downs of Goodreads favorites.


message 4: by brian (last edited Sep 20, 2012 08:37AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   a few yrs ago (i think it might've been on my incredibly loud) thread, we had this monster discussion/ debate on gimmicks, jason. thing is, i love gimmicks! most of my favorite novels are full of 'em. i just didn't think mitchell was able to pull 'em off as well as he could've. and i've never seen that ep of roseanne but it sounds kind of awesome!

YOU blow me away, eh!

heeeeell yeah, davey-boy.
i really wanted to give this 2 stars to stick it to all those fanboys/girls, but it would've been mere provocation. i shoulda done it, tho. gone to war with jason.


message 5: by Jenn(ifer) (last edited Sep 20, 2012 08:39AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenn(ifer) I couldn't have said it better myself. I just finished the Sloosha chapter and thought to myself, "Oxen of the Sun" was a bitch to slog through, but it was still brilliant. This is just a bunch of garbled nonsense.


Jason Wait, did you like Extremely Loud?


Jason Oh wow, yeah, you kind of did. See that one didn't work for me.


message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny Ha ha! I love your use of Joyce and Stalin to score underhand points!


Jenn(ifer) Jason wrote: "Ifer's gonna love this review. I think it must come down to whether the self-referential shout-outs seemed gimmicky to the reader or felt amusing/clever. They definitely amused me. Kind of like on ..."

you are correct sir! I do love this review.


brian   yeah, jason.
it's kind of a mess and there's some truly bad stuff in there, but i did like it. i loved everything is illuminated and safran-foer is my boy in that he's as big & ridiculous a vegetarian animal-rights nut as i am (read eating animals, bitch!), so i think that migth've colored the experience. but, yeah, i did like it.

thanks, manny.
you can never go wrong with a good stalin comparison.


message 11: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins I've only read Ghostwritten. Almost everything about it seemed fake, esp the attempts at spiritual profundity. I was hoping this one might work for me, but I guess he's hopelessly ersatz.


message 12: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew brian: damn. you're right.


message 13: by brian (last edited Sep 20, 2012 03:33PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   ha! thanks, drew.
and, yeah, eddie, it definitely had an annoyingly middlebrow psuedophilosophical vibe. i feel like you gotta go full-on philosopulp (PDK) or be a bit more highbrow. stupid distinctions i'm making, but y'know what i mean.

no problem, joyce! disagreement is what it's all about! not too much fun hashing it out with people w/similar opinions. let the games begin! grrrr!


message 14: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew Yeah, I actually had to modify my own review a bit. I do remember enjoying it a lot at the time, but it hasn't aged particularly well; I mostly now remember the things I didn't like, and I don't think that's how that's supposed to work.


Jason Drew wrote: "Yeah, I actually had to modify my own review a bit. I do remember enjoying it a lot at the time, but it hasn't aged particularly well; I mostly now remember the things I didn't like, and I don't t..."

Backpedaler.


message 16: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew Jason, I usually try never to modify any of my reviews after the fact for exactly that reason, but in this case, even at the time, I was agonizing over whether it felt like 4 or 5 stars, agonizing way out of proportion to the thing's actual importance, which is approximately nil. So I thought it was acceptable.


message 17: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely "all that clever stuff is worthless if not in service of a few well told tales... and this is where Mitchell falters."

I agree! The book is too gimmicky the messages were drowned. Spot on review, Brian.


B0nnie brian, in spite of everything you liked this book...yay. What did you make of the Larkin references in the Cavendish chapters? Justin (who pointed them out to me) hated them.


Jonathan Peto I read those Mishima books and completely forgot about the reincarnation there. Images of Thailand came to my head as I read your review.


Jonathan Peto You have some good points but my 5 stars stay.


Jason B0nnie wrote: "brian, in spite of everything you liked this book...yay. What did you make of the Larkin references in the Cavendish chapters? Justin (who pointed them out to me) hated them."

But doesn't Justin hate everything?


brian   yeah, that's right, bonnie... the dead hedgehog, etc.
oh, i didn't mind that. larkin's my all time #1 favorite poet. he's like sea salt: add a dash to anything and it's a bit better.


B0nnie brian wrote: "yeah, that's right, bonnie... the dead hedgehog, etc.
oh, i didn't mind that. larkin's my all time #1 favorite poet. he's like sea salt: add a dash to anything and it's a bit better."


A dash of Larkin salt can even make my reviews palatable. I liked the way Mitchell made use of him - well I like pretty much everything in this book. It is a sort of history of reading. I think the Adam Ewing section is my favourite. Apropos, someone here posted this haka video recently. No wonder the Moriori were wiped out by the Maori...


Thoraiya "so… here we have a kind of inherent and unearned value determined by structure alone"

YES


brian   bonnie/joyce: my good friend did some camera tests of people reading poetry. here's the larkin one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmUfky...


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm late, but Brian: it's been a few years since I read this, so I don't remember at all how I can defend what I'm about to say, but from what I remember, when I closed this book, I thought it was a very well done and damning indictment of colonialsm. That was the deeper thing for me, the thing that took it beyond gimmick. But again, too long ago for me to remember well enough to defend.


message 27: by Jason (new)

Jason Coleman So I don't have to read this thing. What a relief.


message 28: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Fun putdown review.


David Acevedo A very nasty review. I think you didn't really read. "Piling story after story" makes it sound like the author didn't do his job. I can count to 100 the books I've read that utilize this technique and aren't as successful as this book. Conversely, the technique is back up in this book, what with the implied (never quite stated) reincarnation theme. The fact that said theme is "thin" (I'd rather say it is "there and subtle") and yet successful, speaks volumes about the author's dominion of the word and the quality of this book. I'm really sorry you didn't enjoy it. I'm even more sorry that there are people who need such massive dosses of LSD to suspend their disbelief while engaging a book nowadays. Kuddos.


Jason brian's a very nasty guy. What did the hell did you expect?


message 31: by brian (last edited Jan 11, 2013 06:32AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   easy there, ddavidd caleb. it's not like i compared mitchell to stalin, or something. oh wait...

brian's a very nasty guy... says the guy holding the phallogourd.


Jason brian wrote: "...says the guy holding the phallogourd."

Are you jealous of me or of the phallogourd?


message 33: by brian (last edited Jan 11, 2013 06:37AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   oh, jeez.
neither. you. it. both! I DON'T KNOW! JUST SHUT UP!!!


David Acevedo Jason wrote: "brian's a very nasty guy. What did the hell did you expect?"

I didn't expect anything, mate. I've just met him... I never expect any kindness from strangers, so if I get it, it's a beautiful surprise. Suffice to say, I've had many beautiful surprises in my life.

I've also learnt that reviews are reviewable too. Otherwise, Goodreads wouldn't have an area for comments under each review...


David Acevedo brian wrote: "easy there, ddavidd caleb. it's not like i compared mitchell to stalin, or something. oh wait...

brian's a very nasty guy... says the guy holding the phallogourd."


that's alright, mate. You are entitled to your opinion, and though I strongly disagree, and may come off as nasty myself, I respect it. I do. You have my promise on that.


message 36: by brian (last edited Jan 11, 2013 06:43AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   reviews of reviews are also reviewable. and then those are reviewable. and then those are. and then if you start working backwards you can have a cloud atlas style:

review>review of review>review of review of review>review of review>review.

i'm a genius!


Jenn(ifer) I can't believe you didn't like this book!


message 38: by David (last edited Jan 11, 2013 06:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo brian wrote: "reviews of reviews are also reviewable. and then those are reviewable. and then those are. and then if you start working backwards you can have a cloud atlas style:

review>review of review>review..."


I can't disagree with both... you might be a genius we'd love to hate. Fuck this, I wanna be your friend. LOL


brian   yay! and david actually friend requests me.
i respect that.

and who let her in the room?
now there's a real pathological mitchell hater.


David Acevedo brian wrote: "yay! and david actually friend requests me.
i respect that.

and who let her in the room?
now there's a real pathological mitchell hater."


Why wouldn't I? I was unkind to you, yet you weren't to me. What's not to love about that? You've got yourself a new friend in the Caribbean, mate! Hit me up if you ever plan on visiting the most dangerous and crimeridden island on this part of the world! :-D


brian   heh heh.
thanks, david.

you're in san juan? i've been there. i love it.
i remember drinking beer in an open air bar watching gigantic lizards crawl down the street. good stuff.


Jason Did the lizard walk into the bar?


message 43: by David (last edited Jan 11, 2013 06:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Acevedo brian wrote: "heh heh.
thanks, david.

you're in san juan? i've been there. i love it.
i remember drinking beer in an open air bar watching gigantic lizards crawl down the street. good stuff."


Yeah. The lizards. The city's infested with them. Particularly where I work. Yesterday, I counted 57 of them laying on the yard, soaking in the rain and the few rays of sun they could get. Some people are hunting and eating them in kebabs, as apparently they constitute a rich source of proteins and some minerals. The whole busines is disgusting to me. I don't dare eat reptilians. I've never been able to trust them enough for that.

I'm happy you liked San Juan, by the way. Whenerever you come back, just let me know. I'll take you around the rest of the island. By the way, there's a new a local beer you might one to try... It's called Buyé. It's quite dark, though. But I guess everything tastes better with lemon. ;-)


David Acevedo Jason wrote: "Did the lizard walk into the bar?"

Sometimes, they do. People have learned to either ignore them or hunt them for protein intake. I distrust them.


brian   black guy, jewish guy, and a lizard walk into... i'll stop.

thanks, david. nice offer.
if i'm ever back in san juan we'll surely debate cloud atlas over liz-kebabs and dark beer.


Jason brian wrote: "yay! and david actually friend requests me."

David I think you should consummate this new relationship of yours by "liking" brian's review (in lieu of "taking him around the island," that is). It would be a great way to prove your love.

Plus he spent a lot of time working on this piece of drivel.


David Acevedo brian wrote: "black guy, jewish guy, and a lizard walk into... i'll stop.

thanks, david. nice offer.
if i'm ever back in san juan we'll surely debate cloud atlas over liz-kebabs and dark beer."


By all means! :-D


message 48: by brian (last edited Jan 11, 2013 07:05AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

brian   ha!
i'm gonna like david's 5 star review right now.

you should do it also jason!


message 49: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Aww, this was like watching a flower bloom!


David Acevedo brian wrote: "ha!
i'm gonna like david's 5 star review right now.

you should do it also jason!"


LOL!!!!!


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