Of Clouds and Stardust

My appreciation for what I’ve read of Cloud Atlas thus far has been indescribable. Well, not entirely indescribable – to put it into perspective, I went ahead and purchased number9dream, Ghostwritten, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet from Barnes & Noble today (my employee discount certainly didn’t dissuade me at all from this endeavor). David Mitchell has rapidly become one of my favorite authors. I haven’t felt so engrossed in a novel since I read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman back in middle school. His narrative is so impressively diverse and versatile, yet cohesive and expertly intertwined: no one could possibly mistake Cavendish’s judgmental gibbering for Sonmi-451’s objective criticisms of the future world order or Luisa Rey’s clever journalistic cunning. One would expect such a wide berth of characters to mesh together poorly. But for all the tattered fragments that linger unanswered (keep in mind I’m only halfway through thus far) the book has yet to feel disjointed or contrived.

I would attribute this unity to Mitchell’s ability to seamlessly weave his “cloud atlas,” as it were. Each microcosm of time is meticulously crafted in relation to the other; as Professor Clayton so succinctly put it, each “hyperlinked” to the others. Ewing’s journal appears in Frobisher’s examinations of his mentor’s collections, whose later “Cloud Atlas” composition is briefly encountered amidst Luisa Rey’s investigations (which ultimately turns out to be a prophetic mystery novel sent to Cavendish to be reviewed for potential publication by his agency), and so on. Each individual part is so well-researched and plausible, fully capable of standing independently on its own two feet. They are threaded together by a cyclicality that saturates the novel: from the gradation of time period from earliest to most futuristic and back again, the sneaky movements of the tiny header cloud from outermost to innermost location on the physical page, and, of course, the continual reappearance of the comet birthmark, faithfully reorbiting without fail into every episode. In this case, it is the layering of meaning and thematic recurrences that truly makes Cloud Atlas even greater than the sum of its pieces.

Julia Ray earlier wrote that her biggest qualm with the novel was the not-so-subtle suggestion of reincarnation, which also incited similar controversy in class this morning. Though many find the mysticism of this concept utterly irrational, I’m not sure I agree (much to the chagrin of the science lover in me). In fact, I have to say this plausibility of reincarnation was among the largest factors in my enjoyment of the work, mixing the patently unknowable with the hard facts of science. Now, I’m not at all saying I subscribe to this notion, but rather that I don’t mind entertaining it and keeping an open mind. As Cletus was kind enough to point out, reincarnation shares strikingly similar mechanisms to processes found in nature. Likewise, a quote by Lawrence Krauss has been making its rounds about the internet recently:

Atoms that compose our bodies will eventually assimilate themselves into the environment around us, undoubtedly assisting the creation of new living organisms in the future. Who among us has the knowledge necessary to fully judge concepts like reincarnation?

Like I said, I’m not dedicated to this idea. Just maintain an open mind. It’s not so farfetched.

– R


~ by vandyryan on March 3, 2012.

One Response to “Of Clouds and Stardust”

  1. I concur with your praise of Mitchell; his ability to create intricately interwoven narratives, each having a distinct voice, is uncanny. Like you’ve said, each one can stand on its own, yet it doesn’t feel disjointed. It makes for a compelling read.

    I applaud your stance on reincarnation. Reconciling concepts of a mystical nature with one’s inner scientist is tough, I agree. Having an open mind is key – good for you.

    Also, great quote from Mr. Krauss – highly provocative, in more ways than one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!


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