Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cloud Atlas Read-Along: 1 and 2

Read-along readers: Long ago, I started a review of this book -- and never finished . I was so awed and intimidated by this book, I stopped  blogging for months. I am resurrecting the notes to that review but will fill them in chapters at a time as I reread. I will try not to spoil your reading -- adding spoilers only after we have competed sections -- and filling in the structure section as it becomes obvious. So much of this book is like a very ambitious puzzle where the pieces come together to slowly reveal interlinking images. I don't want to ruin the piecing together for anyone.
Also note, you have completed the toughest and least accessible parts of the book --- it gets much better from here. 

Cloud Atlas. The Geography of clouds?
Read a section  – and move on.  Follow it as in meditation: acknowledge each passing story  --- then let it go.    While in each story’s grip, be intensely present. It will come round again. The six stories that make up David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas map the territory of evanescent lives, past and future eras, evolving souls. The stories span 1800s to well into the future. 

Structure:   To be revealed.
Motifs, themes: Literary forms, Predators, cannibalism, slavery, Edens, Travel focus on exotic places' predatory thievery.

Section 1: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
Diarist Adam Ewing, a San Francisco lawyer,  has gone to the Chatham Isle to deliver legal documents, sailing aboard The Prophetess. back to San Francisco.
Time: 1850s
Tone: Earnestness, naivete.
Summary: Ewing begins stalled and waiting in the Chatham Islands and then travels by sea, accompanied by surgeon Henry Goose aboard the ship, The Prophetess. Opens on a beach where Goose is picking up teeth that have been spit out by cannibals. Tells Ewing he is planning to refashion them into dental fixtures to for a woman who has blackballed him from London society. 
Other scenes: Ewing and Goose pass a slave being whipped. Ewing and slave make eye contact. Sabbath celebrations at the inn  become drunken sailors  in a whorehouse. Ewing and Goose go to a chapel and Sunday dinner at farmhouse with preacher. Hear horrific island history. Goose consults with the captain of the Prophetess on a medical matter, and later agrees to voyage on the ship and care for the captain. Ewing walks into the forest and falls into a Tor. Journey resumes. Stowaway Autua (the beaten slave) reveals himself to Adam,  tells him  personals history. Adam in turn reveals him to captain. He is an experienced seaman and is allowed to work his way on voyage. Rafael, a young lad serving as cabin boy,  has turned sullen since journey began.  Why??? Adam, is ill and is being treated by Goose. 
Motifs/ themes introduced:  Predators, cannibalism, slavery, religion.
Literary genre: Journal
Embedded literary form: an oral tale (that Ewing calls worthy of Defore or Melville thus invoking the section’s form) about the brutal subjugation of the aboriginal, peaceful Moriori by a neighboring tribe, the  Maroi. A kind of Paradise Lost, Eden undone story.
Occupation/Purpose of voyage:  delivery of legal papers
Writers mentioned: Defoe, Melville
Sample language: "The beaten savage raised his slumped head, found my eye & shone me a look of uncanny, amicable knowing! As if a theatrical performer saw a long-lost friend in the Royal Box, and undetected by the audience, communicated his recognition. a tattooed 'blackfella' approached us & flicked his nephrite dagger to indicate that we were unwelcome.  I inquired after the nature of the prisoner's crime. Henry put his arm around me. 'Come Adam, a wise man does not step betwixt the beast & his meat.'"
 Noted oddities: Footnote on page 21 to indicate the journal has been edited by a son.  Journal breaks off mid-sentence.
Section Reappears in the forms of:   Journal in section two and ........ (to be completed later)

Section 2: Letters from Zedelghem 
Time 1931
Letter writer Robert Frobisher writes to Sixsmith (who's he? and why)
Literary genre: Epistolary novel (sexual romp/farce) can't quite place, need help here..... part  Fielding; part D.H. Lawrence; also reference to “if we were in one  of Emily's breathy novels, the seductress's hands would have encircled the innocent's torso.  ( Emily Bronte?) P 67
Other writers mentioned/referenced; Verlaine, Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey
Means of support: rip-off, leeching, rare book pilferer; Amanuensis 
Tone: Condescension. Sophistication.
Themes/motifs: Predation; thievery,  sex, religion, poison.
Language (language of music) and language of indulgence -- food, sex etc.
Summary: A knave and musician, Robert Frobisher skips out on debts and flees London to go to Zedelgem, outside of Bruges, Belgium, where he  wants to become the amanuensis for Englishman Vyvyan Ayrs, an ailing celebrated composer who has not composed in  a decade. Frobisher auditions -- and passes.  He meets Jocasta, the wife, and the ice-cold French-speaking sulking, pouting, horse-back riding daughter, Eva. The large estate has been the site of selling off and pilfering one way or another  for centuries. Frobisher begins to co-compose and explores all the rare volumes in the library.  Gets in touch with book sellers. The composition work meets some success and he is moved to more sumptuous quarters. The wife begins to flirt and then seduce him.  A nearby estate is burgled. Ayrs reveals he has a gun that he keeps in the bedroom. Frobisher goes to city and sells pilfered illuminated manuscripts to  Jansch. Then makes extra money as Jansch's prostitute. Spys Eva who seems to be up to same in with much older man.  Later, Frobisher confronts her, but she has an answer that changes the appearance of  what he saw.  Ayrs bangs on Frobisher's door while Jocasta is there. He wants to compose. inches away from his hidden wife.   Sexual Farce. 
Reemergence of : Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing and  interesting commentary on said journal:
"Now pay attention while I talk books and lucre. Poking through an alcove of books in my room, I came across a curious dismembered volume, andI want you to track down a complete copy for e. It begins on the ninety-ninth page, it's covers are gone, its binding unstitched. From what little I can glean, it the edited journal a voyage from Sydney to California by a notary of San Franciso named Adam Ewing. Mention of made of the gold rush, so I suppose we are in 1849 or 1850. The journal seems to be published posthumously by Ewing's son (?). Ewing puts me in mind of Melville bumbler Cpt. Delano in "Benito Cereno," blind to all conspirators-- he hasn't spotted trusty Dr. Henry Goose {sic} is a vampire, fueling his hypochondria in order to poison him, slowly, for his money.
Something shifty about the journal's authenticity -- seems to structured for a genuine diary, and its language doesn't ring quite true -- but who would bother forging such a journal and why?"

Other interesting word play: When Frobisher meets book dealer Otto Jansch -- Jansch says:
"So suspicous, Roberto?  I'm hardly going to make trouble for a naughty goose who lays such illuminated eggs, am I? Come now" -- he indicated the bar -- "what's your poison?" (underhanded reference to Henry Goose perhaps?)
Note: Reference to birthmark p 85 on Frobisher's shoulder the one Sixsmith says resembles a comet.


  1. Ooohh I didn't pick up on the Goose stuff. Also - I wonder if the reference to Sixsmith's comment on Frobisher's shoulder birthmarks hints at some more intimate relationship in the past between the two.... will be interesting to see...
    - Katie @ Bookish Tendencies

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  3. Lots to connect in the future. i didn't remember that little joke/word play on the goose that lays the golden eggs before. Wonder if there will be more like that -- that I also didn't notice.