So it goes: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut [1969]

sh5Even though I try to resist it, avoidance is the Farrant family way. Have something scary or important that needs to be completed? Let’s leave that till the last minute. I am fairly adept at dealing with most of life’s issues now, but there are always moments where I desperately fight the urge to bury my head in the sand.

I have avoided reading Slaughterhouse-Five for years; every year or so I would rediscover it and google the wiki plot summary, deterring myself over and over again. This time I changed tactics, rather than trying to find out what it was about (having duly forgotten again) I decided just to sit down and read the damn thing. Thank goodness I did, because I absolutely bloody loved it.
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A Multitude of Drops; ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell [2004]

Uncharacteristically I have begun this blog before I have finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a sign of a gripping read. I have not felt this revitalised by a novel in a long time. Mitchell writes intelligently and thoughtfully, there are ideas swimming around in my head now that I have not touched on since university; I feel intellectually reawakened in a way so few books have done before.

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small. Synopsis from GoodReads

Cloud Atlas is a travel forward and backwards through time via Adam Ewing, Robert Frobisher, Louisa Rey, Timothy Cavendish, Sonmi and Zachary. They are not the only players in the game of life, however, the chapters of time significantly revolve around their stories. Characters and lives intertwine, the one after knows about the one before, and all of this is so beautifully written you will not be able to put it down.

I only struggled twice through my endeavour to read Cloud Atlas prior to the film’s release; Mitchell wrote Adam Ewing so accurately I felt as if I were reading a 19th Century memoir, and Zachary colloquialisms were difficult to decider. Do not be put off by these struggles, Mitchell has an infallible talent for characterisation. My two enjoyments lied in Robert Frobisher and Timothy Cavendish and I cannot decide who I prefer. Their snarky sarcasm and high-arrogance was a pleasure to read, however, if pressed Cavendish indignant prose induced more laughter than Frobisher’s sardonic droll.

What distressed me most, in each chapter, each era, each life, two characters lose each other without being able to be happy in love. In sharing this with my friend I was told that that is life, to find someone perfect but it is not the right time. When is the right time? I have been forward and back through Cloud Atlas now, and if there is no resolution why the repetition? It depresses me.

“Time cannot permeate this sabbatical. We do not stay dead long. Once my Luger lets me go, my birth, next time around, will be upon me in a heartbeat. In thirteen years from now we’ll meet again at Gresham, ten years later I’ll be back in this same room, holding this same gun, composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such elegant certainties comfort me.”Frobisher’s last letter

Yet, the beauty in Cloud Atlas lies in history’s repetition; in Ewing’s prediction of Zachary’s world. We make no different decisions and we do not learn from past mistakes. We will always love, hate, wage wars and attempt to control peace, however, it is the awareness that we must make change and alter our mode of thought that drives us. Success is not easily defined, but what comes after seems to always be better than what has passed.even if it isn’t

“‘He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, you life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!’ Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”Adam Ewing

Read Cloud Atlas, you will not regret it.