I was intimidated by David Mitchell for some reason. No, actually . . . I know why. It's because he has an expression of vague disapproval in his author photos* and the trailer for the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas makes my noodle hurt.
|Oh NOW I get it.|
I'm not saying it's a simple story structure. It's written from multiple character perspectives and intertwines story lines, which seems like it might be Mitchell's Thing. The transitions from one perspective to the next are clearly divided into six sections and marked with thematic illustrations, but even so the switch-over can be disorienting—like going to sleep and finding, upon waking, that you're in a different body. You might need a minute to get your bearings.
|Oh please, you know this is the first thing you would do.|
We start out with Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old in the English countryside who has a fight with her mother and decides to run away from home. Everything is pretty standard-teenage-girl-stuff with Holly. She's a lot like Johanna from Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl, dealing with family life, falling for the wrong boy, and itching to grow up. But there's this subtle undercurrent of oddity, because Holly has, in the past, heard voices and experienced what you might call psychic premonitions.
That supernatural flavoring carries through all the sections, as we jump from Holly to a cast of other characters whose lives intersect with hers in unexpected ways. The book jacket uses the phrase "everyday grace and extraordinary wonder," and I guess the book jacket knows what it's talking about.
The prose isn't flowery or spare, but it's often quite good, like so:
Love's pure free joy when it works, but when it goes bad you pay for the good hours at loan-shark prices.Minor quibbles: In one of the sections, people occasionally speak French, without any translation provided. That sort of thing makes us peasants feel left out, and we don't prefer it. Also, the foreshadowing can be heavy-handed at times—"I couldn't shake the feeling that I had just seen so-and-so for the last time" and that sort of thing. I suspect the editors recommended adding these signposts, maybe worrying that the average reader would trail too far behind without moderate hand-holding.
|NO THIS IS JUST HOW MY FACE LOOKS.|
At any rate, this book successfully broke the David Mitchell ice for me, and now I can tackle that copy of Black Swan Green I've had for 3 years. Well, you know . . . eventually.
*After watching this video of Mitchell's presentation at BEA 2014, I see that he's charming and self-deprecating and not at all scary. He describes his own book as a "big, thumping beast of a thing" and briefly examines the subject of tickling.