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Posts Tagged ‘David Mitchell’

Imagined Futures with James Bradley, Jonathan Lethem, Emily St John Mandel & David Mitchell

Ashley Hay was given a hard task with these four authors, whose works feature dystopian or alternate worlds, those ‘imagined futures’. Not because of the authors themselves, of course, but because there was so much to unpack from each book’s weighty vision of our imperilled future.
Chronic City by Jonathan LethemJonathan Lethem is an American writer who, after early science fiction works, won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1999 for his novel Motherless Brooklyn. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship (‘Genius Grant’). Chronic City is not his most recent work, but its story set in a strange version of New York in which a large tiger destroys buildings and a grey fog envelops part of the city, made him a worthy addition to the panel. The novel was named one of The New York Times’s ten best novels of 2009.

In response to Hay’s question to each of the panel, about what made their stories imperative when they wrote them, Jonathan Lethem spoke of his amazement and rage at the post-9/11 atmosphere that had taken (re-taken?) over New York City, where money had ‘gauzed over’ that horrific and galvanising event. There was ‘a fog of amnesiac displacement’. After 9/11 the city had looked both outward and inward, at the causes of the attack, questioning American geo-political stances. And here it was, only 3 years later, and it had been swept away by greed and the mighty dollar. Chronic City was a response to that.

David Mitchell, author of the genre-bending The Bone Clocks (my review here), said the original idea was to follow the life of a single 75 year old person in ‘micro stories’, with one for each year of her life. He soon realised, however, that writing from the point of view of a new born baby was ‘problematic’(!), and thus opted for a novella per decade. He wanted to explore time, deep time, and asked himself what you would pay for a Faustian pact to avoid mortality.

Station Eleven by Emily St John MandelCanadian Emily St John Mandel’s acclaimed novel Station Eleven was a finalist in the 2014 National Book Award (US). Her earlier work was in the area of crime fiction, and she said she wanted to break free from that area before she was pigeon-holed. Her story follows an amateur theatre group travelling the countryside after a flu pandemic has wiped out 99% of the population. When she began thinking about a post-apocalyptic world, she figured that the disaster wouldn’t last forever. Her novel deals not with the pandemic but with the aftermath.

Clade by James BradleyI read James Bradley’s Clade earlier this year (not reviewed). It’s a novel of ambition, following one family over three generations, well into the future, in a vastly changed environment. It has some wonderful writing, and some disturbing environmental catastrophes. He set out to write a novel of climate change, a subject that is ‘very resistant to fiction’. He wanted to link large geological time with a human story, one that had both continuity and rupture. His story echoes Mandel’s in this way, because while the world falls apart life goes on.

Hay asked whether the Dark Ages were an inspiration for any of the writers. Mandel said she didn’t need to look back. There was enough ‘economic ruination’ in post-GFC America for inspiration as to how things might look and feel.

Bradley spoke of the decline in species numbers, particularly in birds. He noted the massive decline in bee numbers. Lots of things that scientists had said were markers of real tipping points, things he put in the book, have worryingly come to pass in recent months, from the release of methane from Siberian permafrost to a change in the earth’s rotation as the result of ice melting at the poles.

Lethem also spoke to birds and how we have become disconnected from the wild in cities, giving the example of some New Yorkers’ reactions to a single red-tailed hawk, which built a nest on a co-op building in New York. Some occupants of the building were happy to see it, whereas others felt it diminished the value of their homes and wanted rid of it.

Jonathan LethemLethem then spoke of one of the most disturbing things I think I’ve ever heard. After 9/11, once the twin towers’ scrap metal had been sifted through for remains,, the metal was melted down and used to build an aircraft carrier, which was subsequently used in the Gulf War. It was as if the USA were taking the graves of all those lost and using them as a ‘sword with which it could smite’ the country’s perceived enemies. How could this type of thing happen? He recalled seeing this same aircraft carrier sail into New York Harbour some years later, and the response in his heart to seeing this weapon of war.

The World Witout Us by Alan WeismanMitchell entered the discussion here, tying together some of the other panellists’ thoughts, by asking if anyone had read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which explores the way nature reclaims and regenerates if it is left to its own devices,, and which Mitchell declared as excellent. Birds, he said, fare very well; the descendants of dinosaurs survive and thrive if and when humanity finally loses its foothold on the planet.

The Bone Clocks by David MitchellMitchell was asked by Hay about his uber novel, and rather than say he is ‘inking-in his large sheet of paper like a map’, as he did the night before, he said simply, ‘I’m not that clever,’ but he did admit to planning ahead a little more than he had in the past, placing some of his characters in ‘scenarios’, including Marinus, one of his favourites. So maybe there is a little more of the map being inked behind the scenes, so to speak.

Did actors, which appeared in several of the novels, asked Hay, provide the authors with an element of ‘performance’ they were seeking, or some sort of subterfuge? Mandel thought all characters are actors in a way. She had no specific reason for her choice other than her own experience with people she knew in off-off-off-Broadway(!) amateur theatre companies, in which to be a part meant you really loved the art because there was no way you were ever going to be paid for it. Her story did, however, feature a comic book, which allowed her extra freedom because she could use different language in it, words that characters wouldn’t.

Lethem made the point that while his book features a sit-com actor, he is an actor rather than an artist. Bradley said there is a merging of real and virtual worlds. He spoke about what was for me one of the most interesting things in his book, so-called ‘sims’, in which photos and videos and other visual records of a person are made into simulations of the person after they die so their loved ones can still interact with them. The sims are fitted with learning algorithms that allow them to learn how to better respond to their loved ones. So you can have these walking ghosts in your house. But the technology also allows loved ones to massage the sims, meaning they can wipe out the ‘bad’ traits of the person who has died! In a way, the sims provide us with a way of reincarnating us. But, like in Mitchell’s work, they are very poor representations of real humans. Something very important is lost in their construction. It’s not a way to truly live.

Hay raised the notion of hope. Is there a place for it? She liked to think there was a place for it in all of the novels. I didn’t take too many notes here, so I’d advise listening to the podcast when it becomes available, but in each of Mitchell, Bradley and Mandel’s work there is a note of hope at the end. You’ll have to read the Lethem to find out what he thinks!

It was an excellent session, with the wonderful Ashley Hay doing a sterling job: see my Saturday ‘Thumbs’ below for more on her…

Ben Okri: The Age of Magic

The Age of Magic by Ben OkriWinner of the Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Road (which I loved), Ben Okri’s latest novel The Age of Magic follows eight people on a journey to make a film documentary about Arcadia. I dearly wanted to see Okri in another session with two acclaimed Australian poets: Les Murray and David Malouf, but that session clashed with another I attended, so instead I saw him in discussion with Radio National’s Michael Cathcart, talking about The Age of Magic. The session is available to listen to online at Radio National here.

I highly recommend it. Okri is such a pleasure to listen to: measured, scholarly and playful. He read from the book and some poetry too.

Cathcart opened up by asking what a ‘quilf’ (spelling?) is. Okri said it’s ‘an imaginary real creature’ that the novel is loosely structured around. He experienced on a walk in Switzerland. They never appear before you, but ‘hover at the margin of your vision’. Such a spirit-being makes two ‘appearances’ in Okri’s novel. He later said he tries to capture the extra dimensionality of life.

The Age of Magic has several premises, said Okri. One is the idea that while we live in an age of historical times, there is also a constant ‘under-river of consciousness and being’, a magical fabric to the whole of existence. He wanted to touch upon this magic that underlies our existence. The more ostensible is eight people going to Arcadia to make a film documentary. But don’t be fooled! It’s all about the secret premise.

‘Eviling’: an anti-magical activity that is used in the story. There are real characters and liminal characters. It is full of aphorisms.

The book opens with a chapter comprised of a single sentence: ‘Some things only become clear much later.’ This began as a three page chapter, and he compressed and compressed it into one sentence which has ‘all the power of everything that has been removed’. Okri playfully admonished Cathcart for reading out this sentence too quickly, and then read it out ‘as it should be read’, which was very slowly!

One character says ‘it’s easier to be clever than to listen’. Listening, said Okri, is ‘quite close to suffering’. Learning to write is about ‘very, very deep listening’. There are three levels of listening: ordinary, deep, and ‘shockingly profound’! You have to listen. Not just to what is said, but also to what is not said. Listening stands in for ‘profound attentiveness’. Okri said ‘I’m a world listener’.

One character, Jim, believes, as we believe, that will is the key thing in life. And yes, civilisations can’t be built without will. But will alone is madness. We need something higher than will/ego.

Okri is fascinated by the making of language. ‘Live’ turned around is ‘evil’. Live is an active presence of life. Evil is the opposite of anti-growing aspect of life.

Cathcart noted there are several references to Faust in the novel. Okri said: that which we go towards compels us to change. If we are on a quest for money, money changes us. The same is true for any journey. That’s why all quest novels are about the inward journey as much as the outward journey. In the middle of Faust, there is a play about Arcadia, so it cohered with the story.

Cathcart asked about radiance, which seems an important element in Okri’s body of work. Radiance is a very difficult thing to write about, but is the necessary flip slip to the darkness. Every writer should write the other side of the coin to their principal theme. We are very focussed on suffering. There was great happiness in his childhood even when there was great suffering. There’s something about childhood afternoons that make them feel like twenty years, the glow of them in Nigeria. There is something enchanting about being life, but enchantment must come through very briefly in writing.

Okri was asked about yoga and meditation. He meditates, if meditation means to think. In the East, Zen masters talk about emptiness. In the West, we think too much, fill our heads with thoughts. We must empty our minds. Emptiness is the place from which creation comes.

One childhood experience he related was about telling stories. He grew up in a story-telling universe. Everything at that age oozed stories. A tree, a dog, even a car can drip stories. In the village, the children sat in a circle and told stories but each child had to invent a story. If you couldn’t tell some original you were kicked out of the group!

His period of homelessness in the UK, where his university founding ran dry all of a sudden and he became poor and destitute very quickly. He still managed to read and have books close to him. Reading keeps hunger at bay. You could just fall through the net in this world and nothing would catch you. This period seeded in him an understanding of need, which fuelled his Booker Prize win ten years later. ‘I wrote my way back into life’.

He was asked about Nigerian and English story-telling, whether he was synthesising both. Yes, but Nigeria needs a new kind of language to capture it. He spent years trying to find the right tone and language. He went right back to basic A-B-C, so he could use words to ‘touch’ the world. It is the weakness of the 19th century novel that it cannot capture the non-linearity of modern life.

Asked about the pressure African writers are under, he said they should not be bound to write solely the troubled African stories, of suffering, famine, bad government and so on. The writer’s primary domain is freedom, the ability to write about what they want. France has a great literary tradition, as does the UK, where there is joy as well as suffering. Publishers also constrain African writers, he said, pigeon-holing them as ‘cause’ or ‘issue’ writers, which he finds deeply unfair.

He was also asked about winning the ‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’, which he explained away quite beautifully by saying the English are too uptight about sex!

Book Design, or ‘Architects of Reading’

Kudos to festival organisers for including a session on book design once again, one of my personal favourites, although it was a vastly different topic than previous years, which usually focussed on the winning designs in the annual Book Design Awards. The session was entitled ‘Architects of Reading’, and focussed on the future form of books. Poor Zoë Sadokierski spent much of the session keeping the book design institution that is WH Chong (Text Publishing) from warring with Google’s Tom Uglow about physical books versus books that might, in future, become more like apps. And not just apps, because Uglow foresees the technology allowing the story to change based on the reader’s activity. He also gave the example of a story about deception, in which every time you went back to the ‘novel’ it would change on you, or deceive you, allowing the story’s form to mirror theme. Chong said this verged on becoming a ‘video game’. Not surprisingly, Chong championed the physical book, with its ‘perfect technology’. It’s a hugely interesting area for discussion, and I would have liked more on it, but was happy to see an example of Chong’s vast marginalia!

Saturday ‘Thumbs’

Thumbs down for: an unnamed writer on one panel session whose reading went on, and on, and on… I mean the writing was good, but as an audience member you just want a little taste, particularly if there are other writers on a panel you want to hear from.

Thumbs up for: Ashely Hay. What a gem she is, a fabulous writer in her own right and a great chair of a rather large panel. She got the best out of four people in under an hour, and also fielded a rather curly question from a young girl in the audience who asked her, much to everyone’s amusement, which of the four novels was her favourite and which she would recommend to a girl of her age! Cue much squirming from Hay under the mock stare of intensity from all four writers waiting to see which of them she would select, but after much sighing she somehow managed to pick one (Mandel’s book) without upsetting anyone!

Next up, Sunday at the festival…

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Don Watson: The Bush

The Bush by Don WatsonIt was a wild and rugged start to Friday weather-wise, with rain and a bit of wind. But such barriers only make us more determined, don’t they? It was in a way a perfect stage for the first session of the day, and perhaps the most entertaining of the week: Don Watson in conversation with Eleanor Hall about his ‘poetic yarn’ The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia. I’ve read part of The Bush and enjoyed every page, and am dying to get back to finish it off after hearing the very wry and very wise Watson. I must admit, I was so entertained, my notes leave a little to be desired…

He opened by acknowledging some of the magic of the Australian bush, the place that gave songbirds and parrots to the world (referencing Tim Low’s wonderful book Where Song Began: more on that below). He spoke about the mountain ash, the tallest hardwoods in the world. And he marvelled at the majesty and mimicry of the lyrebird. He rattled off species after species. Later, he said that 40% of Australian flora is not identified, (which made me wonder how anyone could put a figure on it). The point being, that when the first European settlers arrived, here was a wealth of flora and fauna that was both of the world in ways that were only understood recently, and not of it in ways that made it alien and in want of ‘improvement’ in the eyes of newcomers.

How did the idea for the book take hold? Why did he write it? It grew out of an anthology idea that his publishers thought he could edit. He preferred the idea of doing it himself! It took him eight long years, during which time he ‘wondered why I had been fool enough to agree to write it’! And we were off, with Watson riffing on all sorts of topics, both within the book and not.

On the topic of writing, he said a good writing day is one in which you find yourself in a place you weren’t in the morning.

As for the bush itself, he feels it’s forced onto new arrivals to Australia rather like the idea of ‘mateship’. He skewered mateship, saying it suggests friendship in other countries isn’t held in very high regard! (He also recounted an anecdote on the aftermath of Paul Keating questioning the British flag in the top corner of our flag, how this spawned a furious reaction from conservatives (and still would by the look of things). It also spawned a minor industry of school children drawing the flag they wanted, for which teachers were probably thankful because it gave the kids something to do for a few periods. These flag designs were duly sent to Keating’s office, and, rather like some of the suggestions submitted in New Zealand’s current call for alternative designs for their national flag, created some rather odd-ball efforts, including one that featured Bob Hawke up a gum tree, which was rather well received by Keating!)

But of course, part of The Bush’s purpose is to document the tragedy of the clearing done by the selectors and settlers. ‘We made an incredible mess of the landscape’ Watson said. Watson charted the scale of the disaster, the ring-barking, how much could be cleared in how many hours, the horrible mathematics of it, including his forebears’ role in it. You had to ‘improve’ the land, and that improvement meant destruction. It created a silence in the mind, and is a source of great melancholy. He recounted the story of, if memory serves, Lyle Courtney, whose father never got over destroying a great forest.

A concurrent theme of frontier destruction centres on the plight of Aboriginal peoples. There have been other books on this, as Watson noted himself, such as ‘anything’ by Henry Reynolds (his latest is Forgotten War and is a must read). There were, said Watson, ‘depraved, deliberate and appalling’ things done, such as one settler who had 40-50 sets of Aboriginal ears pinned up to the wall of his cabin. Watson was astonished by the regression of the mid-1990s debate in Australian politics, lamenting the attack on what conservatives derogatively called the ‘black armband’ history. I couldn’t help but think back to his earlier ‘silence of the mind’ observation. Watson asked, why can’t confront the facts? Why indeed.

With regard to land use, there are some positive signs. Farmers are listening to the land, but there is a great national effort required to regenerate the land, something a national government should be involved in, said Watson, for farmers are too indebted to achieve it in any holistic sense. We love the bush, but we don’t understand it, not really. It is full of complexity and contradictions: and these things are good because we need to see them. But the National Party seem to be the farmer’s ‘worst enemy’. We need to support science, and allow it to form our approach. He is hopeful because the land’s powers of renewal are phenomenal, noting the example of platypus returning to once-dead rivers, and trees reclaiming riverbanks. It can be done.

He admitted there were gaps in the book. He didn’t get to the Kimberley, much though he wanted to. But there are lovely humorous things. He spoke about the names us colonials have written onto the landscape (and over Aboriginal names), how some of these names are suggestive of things, such as Wallaby Creek. But there were some strange ones, like Mt Aunty, which had Watson wondering why the person responsible for naming it couldn’t recall their poor aunt’s name. You’d think if someone was going to rename something that had had a name for millennia they could at least remember their aunt’s name!

It was the perfect session: informative, reflective, humorous and entertaining. It probed an author’s book but allowed them freedom to roam over other matters too. I highly recommend you listen to the podcast of it, or better yet, read Watson’s book and go bush.

 

Books of the Year: the Australian Book Industry’s Awards

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba ClarkeThe Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) were on the Thursday night, and three of the category winners were summarily hooked into this Friday morning session. Good on them for making themselves available at such short notice. Maxine Beneba Clarke, author of Foreign Soil, a collection of short stories set all around the world, won the Literary Fiction Book of the Year, (this after being shortlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize too).

These ten stories focus on people ‘trying to find their place in the world’. It is her first work of fiction, with her previous three works all poetry. She found a natural progression from writing poetry into longer narrative forms.

When asked by chair Jill Edington about the path to publication, she said it was winning the Victorian Premiers Award for best unpublished manuscript that got her noticed and the publishers interested in a book of short stories. (There has been a renaissance in short story collections, even by debut authors in recent times. Abigail Ulman’s very good Hot Little Hands springs to mind.) Clarke humbly suggested she won because the issue of refugees and home is a hot topic at the moment.

Where Song Began by Tim LowTim Low’s acclaimed Where Song Began won General Non-Fiction Book of the Year, beating a stellar list of nominees including Don Watson, Helen Garner and Annabel Crabb. He spoke about his desire to write something for general readers (his earlier work on identifying a new lizard species ‘probably only interested around 20 people worldwide’, he admitted rather wryly). The book took him ten years to write.

Always a committed naturalist, his research showed the songbirds that the English champion, such as larks and so on, are in fact descendants of Australian songbirds. All parrot species, too, can be traced back to Australian parrots. When the first European settlers arrived, something I’ve noted in reading early settler accounts, they didn’t comment much on birdsong, and it is true that Australian birds are good ‘fighters’ over territory. Watkin Tench was in the minority when observing both nature and the Aboriginal people.

Withering-by-Sea by Judith RossellWithering-by-Sea, by Judith Rossell, which I’ve seen in every book shop lately, won Book of the Year for Older Children. Judith spoke about her transition from book illustrator to author, and the joy of having creative control of the story from the outset rather than ‘just’ interpreting story into pictures.

Her ‘Victorian fantasy adventure’ is targeted towards girls of around ten, but she is hopeful of picking up a few boy readers too. There could be more prizes coming, because this is the first in a series.

(Brooke Davis’s Lost & Found (my review here) won General Fiction Book of the Year, and the Matt Richell Award for New Writer.)

Congratulations to all the winners.

 

David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks by David MitchellDavid Mitchell is always, if nothing else, entertaining. He has a lovely self-deprecating sense of humour. If you want to see what I thought of the novel, you can read my musings here. The podcast of this session is already available on Radio National here.

There are great existential questions in the novel, which focusses on deep time and the Faustian pact some people enter in order to claim immortality. In doing so, Mitchell wanted to ask the question what these people gave up, whether they gave away their very humanity. The name ‘bone clocks’ is a pejorative term used by the ‘bad’ immortals for us humans. It’s a lovely description of the time-bound nature of our bones. They dehumanise us, said Mitchell, as we ourselves dehumanise the underclass.

Like Cloud Atlas (my review here) and the superlative Ghostwritten (my review here), his two most successful works prior to TBCs, Mitchell uses a structure of linked novellas here. He in fact said (admitted?) that ‘I’m not a novelist. I am a novella writer.’ I think this was a fascinating thing to say. Of his more ‘traditional’ novels, I’ve only read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (my review here), but even that felt like two stories (and genres) bolted together, and in my view wasn’t all that satisfying because of it. Whereas in Cloud Atlas he ‘went for broke’, asking himself ‘could the structure hold itself together?’, in The Bone Clocks he used Holly Sykes as ‘the glue’ that bound the different novellas together, almost as an antidote or solution to his ‘promiscuity’ in the things he wanted to have in the book. In the six genre-busting ‘episodes’, we encounter her roughly every ten years through to the 2040s in a very dystopian, post-oil Ireland. The benefit is ‘diversity’ but the cost is ‘how do you glue it together?’ The answer was Holly Sykes.

I was wanting to ask him why on earth he had chosen to feature the Perth Writers’ Festival rather than the Sydney Writers’ Festival in his most recent novel The Bone Clocks, a point raised by Kate Evans in her questioning. He reuses Marinus, who appeared in The Thousand Autumns and is one of his favourite characters, as one of his good immortals. Also on the side of good is the oldest ‘reincarnatee’, Esther Little. When he wanted to create a character who possessed such ‘deep time’, there was only one place to go: Australia, and to the Aboriginal people, specifically in this case the Noongar people of south Western Australia. Mitchell acknowledged the debt he owed to celebrated Noongar author Kim Scott and That Deadman Dance (my review here). He met Scott in 2011 at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and spent an entertaining day travelling around the suburbs of Sydney in a minivan with a bunch of authors including Scott. He said as a writer it is incumbent on you to interrogate people you meet in order to learn things you knew nothing about.

When asked about whether creating an aboriginal character gave him ‘pause’, he replied, ‘I’m a white European, of course it did.’ While he was at pains to point out that he didn’t use an Aboriginal point-of-view character, I think he feels that it’s a case of I’m an author, it’s my job to create characters and to put voices in their mouths.

He spoke about the dastardly Crispin Hersey, the bad boy of English letters. Asked if Crispin was a kind of cipher for himself, he lifted his cup of tea and said words to the effect of ‘Trust me, I’m no bad boy.’ He did, however, admit to adding some sparkling mineral water by mistake which made it the most interesting cup of tea he’d had in a while. Other food diversions discussed included Vegemite and some New Zealand sweet treat whose name escapes me. But back to Crispin: who is based on a kind of Scrooge, where vanity and ego rule the roost.

He was asked about his ‘uber’ book, the interlinking of all his books through the reuse of characters from one to another. He said there was no master plan as such; it was more akin to a large piece of paper he was slowly inking-in, like a map.

He spoke about the stammering he suffered growing up, and the short cuts he has devised for coping with this, including scanning a sentence almost visually before it is spoken and the ability to see difficult words in advance and seek a way around them. These solutions are ‘largely built-in now’, although you notice in his speaking where he has come from.

He was also asked about whether having an autistic son has changed his writing in any way. His son, he said, is forced to build from scratch the ability and wiring for language that we all come ‘pre-loaded’ with. Watching him had given Mitchell a new appreciation for the mechanics of words and language.

As I left, the queue for the signing table stretched out of the theatre’s foyer and into the sodden street. I don’t think anyone was complaining.

More from David Mitchell on SWF Saturday.

 

Friday ‘Thumbs’

Thumbs down for: um, the weather? I guess we can’t have perfect festival weather every day…

Thumbs up for: Terry Hayes announcing he has sketched out two sequels to I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayeshis blockbuster thriller I Am Pilgrim. He’s also almost finished the screenplay for the novel, which is to be made by MGM and directed by ‘a well-known and hugely respected international director’. Here’s hoping it’s as good as the book!

Thumbs up also go to festival organisers for live-streaming some events to regional NSW.

Next up, Saturday at the festival…

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SWF LogoMy favourite week of the (literary) year has arrived, with the Sydney Writers’ Festival rolling into town. The program is online at swf.org.au. As usual, it’s a case of wall-to-wall sessions for me later this week and into the weekend, but I’m easing myself into things with a one-off session at the University of New South Wales today featuring Evie Wyld, winner of last year’s Miles Franklin Award for All the birds, singing (my review here).

Authors I’m seeing later include: Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found (my review here); Zia Haider Rahman, author of the acclaimed In the Light of What We Know, which I’m reading now and quite enjoying; Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, which I read earlier in the year and thought absolutely fabulous (I miss Mabel!); Don Watson, The Bush, another read from earlier in the year, and another stand out non fiction title from last year; Aussies Steven Carroll & John Marsden talking about creating historical fiction alongside Amy Bloom; another Aussie in Terry Hayes talking about his epic (and fabulous) thriller I Am Pilgrim; David Mitchell, discussing his genre bending The Bone Clocks (my review here), and in another session with James Bradley and others talking about dystopian futures; Ben Okri, talking about The Age of Magic; Brooke Davis (again!) and Steve Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole; Quicksand) on sentimentality in fiction; a session on book design with the inimitable WH Chong from Text Publishing and other book designers (it’s great to see a book design panel session return to SWF); Malcom Knox, Sonya Hartnett and Kari Gislason discussing the things people hide, which, having read and enjoyed Hartnett’s Miles Franklin-shortlisted novel Golden Boys, with its menacing underbelly, should be a fascinating session.

Phew, I’m tired just typing that! Should be great fun… and if you ever wanted to know what goes on behind the shelves at your local book store, then you can catch Evie Wyld, Brooke Davis and Krissy Kneen dish all, (what a shame this session is sandwiched between the normal times of other sessions, making it difficult to get to!).

I’ll get around to giving some round-ups of the pick of the sessions in the coming days.

All the birds singing by Evie WyldH is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldIn the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider RahmanThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellLost and Found by Brooke Davis

The Bush by Don WatsonI am Pilgrim by Terry HayesQuicksand by Steve ToltzGolden Boys by Sonya HartnettThe Age of Magic by Ben Okri

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The Bone Clocks by David MitchellSoon there will be a game called David Mitchell Bingo. Kaleidoscopic narrative with multiple interlinked stories? Check. Characters from previous novels? Check. Wit? Check. Metafictional jokes? Check. Invention? Check. Genre leaps? Check. Future dystopia chapter? Check. Intricate plotting? Check. Entertainment? Check. Our interconnectedness? Check, check, check!

Although of a slightly different ‘flavour’, The Bone Clocks is structurally of the same mould as Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas. It has six interlinked stories following the life of Holly Sykes, told in first person present tense by five different narrators, two by Holly herself and four by other people in her life. Each chapter is set in a different time period and setting. There’s Holly as a rebellious teen in Gravesend, Kent, in 1984; the deceitful Hugo Lamb in Cambridge University in 1991, who meets Holly in a Swiss ski village; the war-addicted reporter Ed Brubeck in 2004, childhood friend of Holly and now her husband and father to Aoife; the utterly delicious Crispin Hersey, a once successful author intent on taking revenge against his harshest critic in 2015; the Horologist Marinus in 2025 New York City, who in a previous incarnation treated Holly as a girl and now asks her for help; and finally Holly Sykes, living in the post-apocalyptic ‘Endarkenment’ in 2043 on the west coast of Ireland.

Threaded throughout is an underlying Science Fiction or Speculative Fantasy plot about a war between the immortal ‘Atemporals’, on one side the (good) ‘Horologists’, on the other: the (evil) ‘Anchorites’.  ‘Bone clocks’ is a term given to mere mortals like Holly by the Anchorites. The Horologists are pure immortals, either ‘sojourners’  or ‘returnees’, working to the ‘Script’; while the Anchorites are soul vampires, prolonging their lives by decanting the souls of children, which becomes the Dark Wine they drink every three months in the Chapel of the Dusk to stave off ageing. The Atemporals have all sorts of powers, including telepathy (‘subspeak’); ingressing into, and egressing out of, people’s bodies; freezing people through ‘hiatus’; redacting memories. The Anchorites can also summon the ‘Aperture’, a portal device. The Horologists failed in their ‘First Mission’, an attempt to destroy the Chapel of the Dusk and the Anchorites, and are preparing a second attack.

Still with me? There’s no doubting Mitchell’s storytelling ability. His narratives rollick along with three dimensional characters and intricate plotting. It’s all very entertaining. The bad boy of British letters, Crispin Hersey, with his cynical takedowns of other writers and critics at literary festivals, is an absolute scream. Living off the early success of Desiccated Embryos (Dead Babies by Martin Amis?!), he doesn’t mind referring to himself in the third person. His new novel, Echo Must Die, is ripped apart by critic Richard Cheeseman, who was once a friend in their Cambridge days. Cheeseman could be commenting on The Bone Clocks when he writes: ‘The fantasy subplot clashes so violently with the book’s State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look’, and, ‘What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?’ Crispin (and Mitchell?) counters with, ‘in publishing, it’s easier to change your body than it is to switch genre.’ These playful metafictional jokes are great fun.

There are interesting Australian influences in this location-hopping novel (the only continent we don’t go to is Antarctica). Crispin meets up with Kenny Bloke, a Noongar poet, loosely based, I suspect, on Kim Scott (whom Mitchell mentions in an interview section at the rear of the book, and whom Mitchell met at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2011). Crispin is trying to win the Brittan Prize, which sounds suspiciously like the Booker Prize because it has just been opened up to American authors. In The Bone Clocks, Nick Greek, a US author, wins! And Kenny Bloke thinks it was very well deserved. (I can’t decide whether ‘Kenny Bloke’ is a hilarious name for an Aussie author, or lazily demeaning!)

Crispin and Holly appear at the Hay Literary Festival, then run into each other at the Perth Writers’ Festival, and then again on Rottnest Island. Holly, whose spiritual memoir The Radio People became a bestseller, is able to tune into voices. And there are many voices on Rottnest Island. She tunes into the Noongar Aboriginal people, and I wondered what Kim Scott made of Mitchell writing as a Noongar ancestor being as Holly narrates:

Wadjemup, they called this island. Means the Place Across the Water. … For the Noongar, the land couldn’t be owned. No more than the seasons could be owned, or a year. What the land gave, you shared. … Whitefella ship us to Wadjemup. Chains. Cells. Coldbox. Hotbox. Years. Whips. Work. Worst thing is this: our souls can’t cross the sea. So when the prison boat takes us from Fremantle, our soul’s torn from our body. Sick joke. So when come to Wadjemup, we Noongar we die like flies. 

Not so for the immortal Anchorites, who recruit potential newcomers with this sales pitch:

What is born must one day die. So says the contract of your life, yes? I am here to tell you, however, that in rare instances this iron clause may be … rewritten.

Death and immortality is one of the key themes of The Bone Clocks. It is interesting that the oldest Horologist, now known as Esther Little, otherwise known as Moombaki, is a Noongar woman, who has lived for thousands of years. And the Horologists don’t go across the ‘Last Sea’ where the souls of dead bone clocks end up. It’s a nice echo of the Noongars’ Wadjemup history, and shows Mitchell is a thoughtful writer and plotter.

An adjunct of the mortality theme is a predacious theme, with both Anchorites and mortals eating future generations. The final story is set in the post-apocalyptic future, the so-called ‘Endarkenment’. There are electricity, food and medical shortages, ration boxes, security cordons, and the Chinese Pearl Occident Company (POC) rules everything it seems. (There have also been pandemics of ebola, a disturbingly prescient element given current events in West Africa.) When the POC removes support for the Irish ‘Lease Lands’, the jackdaws take over, with lawless chaos and an every-person-for-themselves mentality. The young look at the older generations, like Holly’s, as future eaters. It’s a bleak and terrifying future vision.

With Mitchell you’re often left feeling you’re reading several novels in one. That’s certainly true of The Bone Clocks. There are passages that add details that don’t seem necessary, in which you wonder whether he is paying attention to a minor character because he wants to use that character in a future story. More troubling, though, is the lingering question of what it all means.

After some thought, I’ve decided there is a serious point here, that of immortality gained through predation, of the rich and privileged eating the future. I enjoyed The Bone Clocks immensely, and I admire Mitchell’s writing. His legion of fans will love it. Fans of Murakami and China Mieville will love it, too.

But there are some cracks in the edifice. Mitchell burst on the literary scene with Ghostwritten, perhaps still his best, and certainly most cohesive, work.  It introduced us to his great unifying theme: interconnectedness. He talks of writing one giant ‘uber’ novel, and it’s great fun identifying the characters who have appeared in previous novels (characters from Ghostwritten, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet appear here). The question is, if all his novels are based on this idea, will they all begin to sound alike? (I’m not hugely surprised The Bone Clocks did not make the Booker shortlist.)

Nevertheless, when the next Mitchell novel comes out, I’ll do what I did this time: run to the book store and rub my hands with glee at the expectation of the reading experience to come. I know it will be entertaining. And I’ll find out whether my David Mitchell Bingo idea has any legs or whether he surprises with something new.

There are plenty of Mitchell believers out there. Ursula Le Guin praised The Bone Clocks at the Guardian here.

Carolyn Kellogg loved it at the LA Times here.

James Wood offers a more circumspect assessment at the New Yorker here:

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

2014

Sceptre

595 pages

ISBN: 9780340921616

Source: purchased

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The luminaries by Eleanor CattonWinner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is a wonder. It succeeds as both a conceptual work, based on astrological signs and charts, and a thrilling set of mysteries, all of which are interrelated.

Set in the mid-1860s gold rush in New Zealand, the story commences with Scot Walter Moody arriving into Hokitika on the western coast, seeking to make his fortune in the nearby goldfields. On the night of his arrival he stumbles into a gathering of twelve men in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel. The men are from various backgrounds and classes, and Moody slowly comes to see they are all there for some kind of council.

They have come to discuss a series of unsolved crimes that, to an outsider, they might seem involved with. A successful young digger has disappeared. A whore has attempted to take her own life. And a hapless hermit who is fond of drink has been found dead in his cottage, surrounded by a fortune. Moody himself has a tale to tell, too, for he has witnessed something—an apparition of some kind?—on his stormy voyage into Hokitika that has shaken him to the core. He recalls the scene thus:

What had he been thinking of? Only the cravat, the silver hand, that name, gasped out of the darkness. The scene was like a small world, Moody thought, possessed of its own dimensions. Any amount of ordinary time could pass, when his mind was straying there. There was this large world of rolling time and shifting spaces, and that small, stilled world of horror and unease; they fit inside each other, a sphere within a sphere.

Each of the twelve assembled men has their own astrological sign. The shipping agent Thomas Balfour, for instance, is Sagittarius. The Maori greenstone hunter Te Rau Tauwhare is Aries. Each of their personalities is set down in accordance to their sign, and their actions are likewise governed by the position of the planets and other astrological influences on the days of the key events. (Other characters are linked to planets, with related influences; Moody’s influence is reason. The dead man, Crosbie Wells, is Terra Firma.)

The story is divided into twelve Parts, each of which is preceded by a chart to show the position of the planetary influences in the various astrological signs. For instance, in Part One, set on 27 January 1866, we have Mercury, Mars and Jupiter in Sagittarius (Balfour’s sign). And it is Balfour who first engages with Moody and begins to tell him some of the story.

Each Part has a set of chapters, and each chapter has a quaint introduction, which start with the words ‘In which’. The first chapter is entitled ‘Mercury in Sagittarius’ and is described thus: ‘In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story.’

The first Part is 360 pages long, a page for each degree of a circle, ‘a sphere within a sphere’. Subsequent Parts gradually reduce in length, like the waning of a moon, until the chapters are no more than a page long. Meanwhile, the introductions to each chapter become, in the latter Parts at least, longer, waxing as we near the conclusion.

The danger with high-concept novels, as Catton herself acknowledges, is that they risk becoming slaves to the concept and fall down on the level of pure story. The more elaborate the scaffolding, the higher the risk. But story does not suffer in The Luminaries. You could ignore all of the astrological elements and enjoy the story as it stands and as it is written, with some of the well-established Victorian tropes, such as opium dens, a fallen woman/whore, and séances and the supernatural. The prose is assured, and written in classic Victorian style too, from flamboyant character names and descriptions right down to the missing letters in the word ‘d—ned’.

It’s a real page turner, with judicious revelations of relationships and past actions that have contributed to the three events the council has come to discuss. There are lies, deceits, tricks, intrigues, conspiracies, conmen, mix-ups, espionage, rumours, revenge, secrets, promises made and broken, murder, adultery, blackmail, and strange coincidences. And there is, buried in the many revolving tales, the love story of two soul mates. Best of all, it’s fun to read.

Catton manages the panoply of characters with their interwoven pasts with aplomb. They are not stereotypes, but rather have the depth, complexity and contradictions of us all. They have almost Dickensian names: there’s Reverend Devlin, a mercantile ship owner named Carver. And Catton delves deeply into each of them, their physical descriptions, mannerisms, foibles and outlook.

There are interesting themes at play: greed and exploitation; many kinds of love (familial, of a companion, of a lover); honour. There is also the question of whether we have free will or act in accordance to some higher, preordained influence. Perhaps it is both, for the omniscient narrator, in explaining a shift from Aquarius to Pisces, observes ‘were of our own making, and we shall be our own end.’

Exploring the theme of greed, there is a lovely exchange between Te Rau Tauwhare and one of the gold diggers who believes gold and the Maori’s greenstone could be interchangeable: why do we seek gold and not greenstone, one mineral and not the other? No, replies Tauwhare, they are not the same. And we know this because Catton has established the special meaning of greenstone to the Maori people. (Catton also shows Tauwhare’s pain and bitterness when he thinks of the £300 his people were paid for all their land, and the theft it equates to given all the gold in its soil and rivers.)

There’s fun to be hand along the way. Take Mannering’s comment after Balfour’s tale of why the twelve men are gathered for their council comes to a conclusion 350 pages into the novel: ‘A little more than [Moody] bargained for, perhaps.’  How droll!

There are also some lovely touches that reinforce the structural theme. Balfour asks Tauwhare for the meaning of the word Hokitika in Maori. Tauwhare struggles to put it into words, but “at last [he] lifted his finger and described a circle in the air. … ‘Understand it like this,’ he said, regretting that he had to speak the words in English, and approximate the noun. ‘Around. And then back again, beginning.’” It is a beautiful underlining of the structure of the novel itself, which wanes like a moon until it is new again, reaching the start of the story at its end. Beautiful. And one of the main gold claims in the story is called the ‘Aurora’, which is a word for dawn.

The Luminaries is the sort of novel perhaps only David Mitchell would have attempted, and maybe not even him. There will be theses and PhDs written on it. At 832 pages it is the longest to win the Booker, but don’t be put off by the length. At the end, although I was completely satisfied, I hoping there might be more. All I can do now is sit back and admire the waxing of a major literary talent.

And as a fan of great book and cover design work, I dip me lid to the cover design, by Jenny Grigg, which is terrific. And kudos to Granta for publishing such an ambitious work.

Read it, and let me know what you think.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

2013

Granta

832 pages

ISBN: 9781847088765

Source: the bookshelf rainbow (aka purchased, rather appropriately in this instance, from Megalong Books in Leura!)

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Cloud atlas is a mesmeric creation. I was tempted to say I’ve never read anything like it, before Calvino’s equally beguiling If on a winter’s night a traveller came to mind. It is made up of six interlocking, nested narratives, each written in a different style in different historical (or future) time periods. Mitchell’s core ethos as a writer is that everything is connected. This was beautifully rendered in his debut novel Ghostwritten (see my review), which also featured interlocking stories. His belief also manifests in the highly entertaining way in which he uses characters in multiple books; (for instance, an eighteenth century ship captain by the name of Molyneux, who appears in one of the six strands in Cloud Atlas also appears in his latest work, The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet (see my review); and there are others). What makes Cloud atlas different to Ghostwritten are the different narrative styles, the different time periods and the pyramidal structure, with each story read or viewed by the main character in the following story. We read the first half of the first story, (‘1a’), then the first half of the next (‘2a’), and so on until the middle story, after which we fall down the other side of the pyramid. The full structure is: 1a; 2a; 3a; 4a; 5a; 6; 5b; 4b; 3b; 2b; 1b.

We end where we started, reading the journal of a mid-eighteenth century clerk. Adam Ewing is an American sailing through the South Pacific on board Prophetess, heading for Hawaii and then his home in the gold-rush boom city of San Francisco. After observing the violent clashes between Moriori and Maori peoples in the Chatam islands, he is diagnosed with a brain parasite. He is treated by his friend, the ship’s surgeon Dr Goose, but there is a good chance the treatment will kill him.

The journal is cut-off mid-sentence and we are plunged into the second story, of impulsive, down-and out musician Robert Frobisher, who is writing letters to his friend ex-lover Sixsmith from Belgium in 1931. The caddish Frobisher finds work as an assistant to retired and ill composer Vyvyan Ayres.  Frobisher is a wonderful character, passionate, wild, sniping. He beds Ayres’s wife. Meanwhile, he writes that he found and read the first half of Ewing’s journal. Like us, he’s frustrated that he’s only got the first half of Ewing’s story and pleads with Sixsmith to help him find the second half, writing, “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.” (How true!) He is also tickled that poor Ewing doesn’t realise that he’s being poisoned by Dr Goose!

The third strand, set in mid-1970s California, features Sixsmith as one protagonist in the corporate crime thriller entitled ‘Half Lives: The First Louisa Rey Mystery’. The half-lives refers to the fact that Sixsmith is a nuclear scientist working on developing a new type of reactor for civilian power generation, but is also a playful nod to the fact we are getting these half-stories. Enter investigative reporter Lousia Rey, who is looking for her Watergate scoop and stumbles onto a design fault in the new reactors that could threaten catastrophic meltdown. Of course, the ‘powers that be’ so-to-speak will do anything to prevent this news leaking. We are led to a thrilling climax as Louisa escapes with Sixsmith’s report that shows the design fault, before we are again cut-off.

Timothy Cavendish is an unsuccessful publisher in modern-day London. His story, written as a highly entertaining comic farce, sees him publish a spectacular hit penned by a jailed hitman. All the profits have gone to pay off old debts. The hitman feels he’s getting a raw deal on royalties and sends his brothers to rough up Cavendish. There’s lots of fun had here, including a spectacular end for a literary critic (I better watch what I say!). When Cavendish’s brother refuses to help him with a loan to pay off the hitman, Cavendish says: ‘We’re brothers! Don’t you have a conscience?’, to which his brother replies: ‘I sat on the board of a merchant bank for thirty years.’ The farce escalates when the brother offers Cavendish asylum in a safe house up near Hull, which turns out to be more asylum than safe-house. Cavendish is trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare, without hope of escape. Somewhere along the way Cavendish started to read the unpublished manuscript entitled ‘Half Lives: the First Louisa Mey Mystery’ by Hilary V Hush, which doesn’t particularly grab him.

Set in the future corpocracy of Neo  So Copros in Korea after the ‘Skirmishes’, the fifth story, written as dystopian sci-fi, focusses on the fabricant (clone) restaurant server Sonmi~451. She is being interviewed by an ‘Archivist’ after committing some form of crime. The record of the interview is recorded by an orison and will be held in the Ministry of Testaments. Fabricants exist to serve ‘purebloods’. Sonmi~451 works as a slave in Papa Song’s fast-food dinery, a place where breaks are considered ‘time theft’. There’s lots of sci-fi inventiveness and wordplay here, with terms such as fabricant, doodlemoos, peakjammed, wombtank, upstrata and birth quotas all appearing in one sample half-page. There’s also intelligent changes in the spelling of words: our ‘explain’ becomes the future’s ‘xplain’, and so on. What sets Sonmi~451 apart is her ability to ‘ascend’, or become self-aware. Soon representatives from an underground rebel Union movement free her. Just as she is enjoying watching a movie entitled ‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’, the corpocracy cops find her. She attempts to flee but we are, again, cut off!

The sixth and middle story is set on the big island of Hawaii even further into the future, after the so-called ‘Fall’. It’s narrated in first person by an old man named Zachary, who looks back on tumultuous events from his childhood. Zachary lives in a primitive society of Valleysmen, for whom Sonmi is a God. Their enemy is the Kona, a blood-thirsty rival tribe. The big island is visited occasionally by people called ‘the Prescients’, who have advanced technology. Prescients live to be 60 or 70, a number which shocks the Valleysmen who struggle to live much beyond 40 because of ‘redsoak’ or ‘mukelung’. A Prescient woman, the aptly named Meronym, comes to live with Zachary and his family for a few months. After a time she reveals her purpose of the stay, she needs a guide to take her up the volcanic mountain Mauna Kea, a place the Valleysmen fear to go. Zachery is mistrustful of Meronym and goes through her possessions, finding the orison of Sonmi. Meronym explains to him that Sonmi is not a God, but a person who lived before the Fall. Zachery agrees to take Merynym up the mountain.

This is the most challenging story for readers because of its unique voice. Take this representative sample, where Zachary is recounting the visit of a Prescient woman, the aptly named Meronym, who stays with his family for a few months:

First, second, third days the Prescient woman was wormyin’ into my dwellin’. Got to ‘fess she din’t b’have like no queeny-bee, nay, she never lazed a beat. She helped Sussy with dairyin’ an’ Ma with twinnin’n’spinnin’ an’ Jonas took her bird-eggin’ an’ she list’ned to Catkin’s yippin’bout school’ry, an’ she fetched water’n’chopped wood an’ she was a quicksome learner.

It takes a little getting used to but you get the hang of it real quicksome. (I’m betting Mitchell wrote it with his spell-checker turned off, though!)

We then follow the second-halves of the first five stories.

What are we left with? As Zachary observes: ‘Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.’  The stories are linked by the repeating soul, with several characters sharing the same comet-like birthmark. Other links come in the form of words: six is used repeatedly. There are six stories. There is Sixsmith, who is 66 years old. Cavendish is sixty-something. There is Frobisher’s Cloud Atlas sextet. Zachary is sixteen when Meronym visits. There are more examples besides.

The main thematic thrust exists in the numerous rises and falls of characters, peoples, societies. As readers, we rise and fall too, up the pyramid of stories and then down the other side. The aptly named Adam Ewing, our first man if you will, rises up a mountain in the Chatam Islands, then falls into it. Sixsmith lets himself out of an upper-storey hotel window to avoid paying the bill. Louisa Rey’s car is forced off a bridge and falls into the water below. The literary critic in Timothy Cavendish’s story is tossed  off the roof of a building! Sonmi~451 ‘ascends’. Zachary (our ‘Z’ and final man) and Meronym climb and descend a mountain. Moreover, we have the ongoing struggles of one peoples over another. Ewing observes many instances of colonialism’s barbarity. Louisa is placed in peril at the hands of the powerful corporation, as is Sonmi~451. Cavendish is placed into an old people’s home at the hands of his brother, a place where the patients are treated appallingly. The rivalries in the post-apocalyptic world are clear-cut too. There is a chink of light in the final sentences, but overall it’s a bleak world view, something that was also apparent in Ghostwritten. When Zachary asks Meronym who triggered the Fall, she replies ‘[Humans] tripped their own Fall.’ And what of that chink of light at the end? Is it real, is it like the final note of Frobosher’s Cloud Atlas, in which a violin hits a perfectly discordant note?

There is plenty of playfulness (read: post-modernism), some of which critics have singled out as a little too clever. An example is Frobisher’s sextet, which he describes thus:

… a sextet for overlapping soloists: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe and violin, each in its own language of key, scale and colour. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s finished, and by then it’ll be too late…

The author writing to his audience about his own doubt about whether it will work. I love this sort of cleverness. There is more of it, but it’s never more obvious than this. When Frobisher writes to Sixsmith of how: “One may transcend any convention, of only one can first conceive of doing so”, we are mindful not only of Mitchell’s upending of the novel’s conventional structure but of a deeper desire: of upending human nature.

Cloud Atlas is an amazing read. How appropriate that Mitchell, a believer in interconnectedness, should connect disparate genres and periods in creating his masterwork.

In a word: exhilarating.

Cloud atlas was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, losing out to Alan Hollinghurst’s The line of beauty. Mitchell considered it unfilmable but, not to be deterred, the makers of the Matrix trilogy have adapted it for the big screen, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving among others. It will be released in Australia in the new year. Click here for more.

Cloud atlas by David Mitchell

2004

Sceptre

529 pages

ISBN: 0340822783

Source: the local municipal library

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There have been many enjoyable reads this year.  The Boat by Nam Le got 2011 off to a great start with a collection of disperse and riveting ‘long’ shorts.  I then had the pleasure of re-visiting two of Peter Carey’s great novels in Oscar and Lucinda and Illywhacker.  One of the standouts of the year was That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott, winner of the Miles Franklin.  I thoroughly enjoyed David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten – so clever and absorbing, the way the inter-linkages worked was very impressive.  Then onto another debut novel, this time from an Australian, with Favel Parret’s wonderful Past the Shallows.  There was time for some great classics too, like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Later in the year I was thrilled and appalled by Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – what a ride!  And speaking of rides, what a way to end the year with The Savage Detectivesby Roberto Bolaño: part road story, part loss of innocence, every part fantastic.  You can find the reviews of any of these by searching or by clicking on the tags at the end of this post.

What were your favourites this year?

As for 2012, I’m not about to go in for any challenges.  I just plan on reading more classics, both old – Anna Karenina – and more recent – Bolaño’s epic 2666.  And I shall keep abreast of some hot-off-the-press works.  Apart from that, I shall go where the wind takes me.

I hope you join me for future musings!

All the best for the new year.

John

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