Thoughts on three books I’ve read recently.

May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I devoured David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I didn’t ever want it to end and, conceivably, with its reincarnations and intricately linked lives, it didn’t have to. Alas pour moi, Mitchell’s cast is comprised of six (distinct, unforgettable) characters only and it does sadly end. In fact, we are given not one but six separate endings – seven if you count the culmination of the novel’s overarching story in its entirety. Its effect is both of immense satisfaction and an immediate hunger for more.

Confused? Don’t be. What I like most of all about Mitchell is he doesn’t treat his reader as though they are a Philistine. He writes cleverly and with an often knowing nod to philosophical and literary theory but he is never elitist or willfully abstruse. His novel is complex and elaborate but not impenetrably complicated. His scope reaches far and wide, way way back and further forward but it is not unwieldy. Mitchell is very much under control and he carries you confidently along with him. I would follow him anywhere.

Not to dwell too long on Cloud Atlas but I loved wandering and weaving through so many different genres. It highlights the diverse and numerous ways in which we humans tell our handful of essential stories. I’m reading Dune right now and loving it but I confess that the future-set Sonmi clone story in Cloud Atlas was my first foray into science-fiction. I’m trying to open my book-mind and I’m being rewarded for it.

Another prejudice-smashing first for me this year was the hard-boiled detective mystery novel. I’ve read Bukowski’s pastiche of the genre in his final novel Pulp and loved its surreal, hyperbolic nonsense. Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is grounded in grim reality but the protagonist private-eye is so hard and detached it’s a reality I struggled to enter into and empathise with. Rather, I felt like a voyeur in the seedy shadows eavesdropping on everyone else who also stand alone and apart. Which I suppose might be exactly what Chandler aimed to achieve so… mission accomplished detective Marlowe!

I really wish I’d had the profound reading experience of this reviewer in The New Republic but I struggled with The Magician of Lublin and, afterward, fervently resolved never to waste my precious time on something I’m not enjoying, classic or not. Kirsch’s review is fascinating and I appreciate the supplemental history and elucidation of the novel’s significance in Jewish literature. And yet… I found it tedious and dull, the magician’s moral and existential dilemmas redundant and mannered. In short, it wasn’t for me but I’d be genuinely curious to hear from anyone who loved it and can tell me why? 

Phew! That feels good. I’ve been reading more than I’ve been reviewing, there’s a mighty backlog and if I didn’t make inroads tonight I don’t think I ever would have. The Magician of Lublin apart, I’ve been having a wonderful reading year so far. I think my 100 in 2011 goal was a bit too ambitious but Singer’s novel made me realise that, as well as there being no sense in struggling through a book, there’s equally no sense in racing through one just to tick a title off a list. I’m getting there but I’m also happy to linger on those I’m in love with and I do have some lovelies to talk about very soon. But not right now. Right now: red wine, feet up, sleep.

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