Sunday, July 9, 2017

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Image from empireonline media

Dystopic future books I usually avoid, and until I picked up this audio book from the library, I didn't know it was one. When David Mitchell spoke in Vancouver a couple of years ago, his comments on writing intrigued me, so I persevered with this novel, enjoying the dramatic cast of actors presenting the story.

I couldn't begin to comment on the immensely complex structure of these six interwoven tales. Instead, I offer some lines that struck me. In view of current news stories, a few are chillingly apropos.

"Missionaries are malleable if you pretend you're a potential convert," "The sacred is a fine hiding place for the profane," and the brilliant observation, "Where there's bluster there's duplicity."

Mitchell speaks of "the enemy required by any hierarchical state for social cohesion," and how "In a cycle as old as tribalism, fear of the other engenders hatred. Hatred engenders violence, and violence engenders more violence, until the only rights belong to the most powerful."

"An abbey had stood there for centuries until corpocracy dissolved the pre-consumer religions" and "non-consumer religions were criminalized." This, of course, is because "if consumers found satisfaction at any meaningful level, corpocracy would be finished."

Thought the novel has a certain gravity, it is not without humour. These comments made by Tim, the aging editor, are among the ones that made me smile. "The woman was sincere; bigots mostly are," and (in speaking to himself), "Oh imp of the perverse, why do I let you speak for me?" The excitable composer Robert Frobisher can also be funny, as when, after getting involved in a brawl, he bemoans having to watch "all those cannibals feasting on my dignity."

"He who pays the historian calls the tune" recalls Churchill's lighthearted prediction that history would be kind to him, "for I intend to write it."

Mitchell makes shrewd observations about our skewed vision of the past, illustrating with the idea of the Titanic. Once all those who remember the real event have gone, later generations begin to remember the movie as if it were the real story.

He also waxes philosophical with this astute comment: "Funny how power, gravity, love...the forces that really kick ass are all invisible."

The last quotations offer glimmers of hope: "No crisis is insuperable if people cooperate." And as a survivor of attempted murder muses, if our individual choices to do good are but drops in the ocean, they still count. "After all, what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?"

Cloud Atlas has also been made into a movie.

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