Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cloud Atlas

One of the problems with trying to be a writer is that you have to spend a lot of time reading. Now if you're reading a book just for the pleasure of it then reading is no problem at all but one of life's greatest joys, but if you're a budding writer then reading the work of others can be quite demoralising.

The novel I'm currently reading is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and while the Reader in me is enjoying it immensely the Writer is being punched to the ground and savegely kicked where he lies. Reading stunningly good writing like this makes me realise how high and steep is the hill I have chosen to attempt.

Cloud Atlas is a series of six stories, all set in different times yet interconnected in sometimes simple, sometimes ingenious ways. The book begins with the first story, which is set in the nineteenth century, and moves through the stories (and jumps forward in time) until the sixth story is introduced in the middle of the book. That's the point I'm at right now but I was intrigued to see how the second half of the book would be handled so I flicked ahead and discovered that we have only the first half of each story, and that each will be revisited and finished in the latter half, travelling backward in time in the process.

What we have here is a mountain of a book whose peak I'm about to reach before beginning the descent to base camp. It makes me wonder how one can come up with such a multi-layered idea in the first place, let alone map it out to the required level of detail.

The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004, the prize that year being won by The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.

I won't comment on the novel's merits until I've finished it but I will say that I am finding it a fascinating read and a maddening showcase of just how inventive and compelling writers can be. I look at my own scribblings to date and slump with dejection at the comparison.

Still, I bet even David Mitchell had to start somewhere and has some early drafts that he's not too proud of. Please say it's true!

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