Friday, June 1, 2012

My new favorite book: Cloud Atlas

I read books at a rate of about one a month.  The last book I read was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  Natalie recommended it.  I really enjoyed it.

Without giving away any spoilers, the book consists of six stories, each in a different historical era.  Two are in the future.  The relationship between the stories is mostly thematic, but each story also contains a copy of the previous story within it.  For example, the first story is a diary or travelogue which is found and read by the protagonist of the next story.

I rather like the idea of having multiple very different voices.  Each one has a very distinct style, distinct concerns, distinct values, and distinct worldview.  And though all the protagonists are sympathetic, each story implies criticism of the previous one.  The second protagonist thinks the first is gullible.  The fourth protagonist thinks the third story is trying too hard to be clever.  The sixth story, set in a post-apocalyptic world, implies that whatever happened in the fifth story ultimately didn't save civilization.

If I wrote a book, that's more or less what I would want to do with it: have a bunch of compelling and sympathetic characters who nonetheless contradict each other.  That's sort of how I feel about life.

Midway through the book, I felt the unifying theme crystallized.  For me, the crystallizing moment was when a post-apocalyptic ethnographer tells a tribesman, it wasn't old Georgie (the devil) who caused the fall of civilization, it was humans!  The unifying theme is about the human desire for power, and how power gets abused on both the individual and macroscopic levels.  The different stories each show it in a different place and different level.

They're making a major film out of Cloud Atlas, set to come out in December!  It's codirected by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis (of Matrix fame).  I'm not really sure what to think of it; I'm not sure this book is suited for film.  I am, however, excited by the prospect of a film that will treat race in a mature way, and have a multicultural cast.