It often seems in my reading group, that I’m the one who doesn’t like the book which every else does… maybe I’m just an awkward reader, or maybe I don’t try hard enough, or maybe some of the books are just beyond me.

A couple of years ago we read ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell, and everyone else had various shades of liking from ‘OK’ to ‘Amazing!’… I have to confess I couldn’t even finish it, I just didn’t engage with the characters, I got muddled with the story, and I got to a point where I just didn’t care what happened to any of them… and I further confess, that I didn’t finish it… I think Wikipedia sums it up: “It consists of six nested stories that take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future.” It is fantastically complicated with the different story-lines and characters overlapping even though they are separated by centuries and  by millennia. David Mitchell the author has an incredible imagination, and I can’t begin to understand how he was able to weave these different plots and characters together and keep track of them all. I’m just an amateur writer in comparison, and I struggle over my plots which are far less complex.

I have to admit I felt a bit disheartened to be defeated by such a well-thought of book, and actually I didn’t really like it very much either. Apparently it was partly inspired by Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller, which I read when I was a student and found really interesting and influenced me and my writing. So… when our Australian friend said how much he loved the film of Cloud Atlas, having also loved the book, and suggested we watch it, I readily agreed! Maybe I would understand it! Maybe it would make sense! Maybe I would be able to go back and reread the book!

I must admit that I did understand more of the film than the book, although I did get confused at points; it is very clever in the way it tells these complicated but linked stories because the same actors are involved in the different plots:

  • Halle Berry
  • Jim Broadbent
  • Doona Bae
  • Tom Hanks
  • Hugh Grant
  • Hugo Weaving
  • Susan Sarandon
  • Keith David
  • James D’Arcy
  • Zhou Xun
  • David Gyasi

They not only play different characters they change gender and race which is interesting… I guess, and does make a point, I suppose, but I did wonder whether it was actually a distraction – ‘ooh, there’s Ben Wishaw as a woman! Oh look, Jim Broadbent is Korean! Oh goodness, that white woman is Halle Berry!” The effects were extraordinary, the battles, the vistas, futuristic worlds, it was amazingly clever… but was it too clever? Maybe it was just too clever for me. Apparently when it was released there were very mixed reviews, but the music and the score received universal acclaim.

I hope my friends from the reading group watch it, I’ll be very interested in their opinions! meanwhile, for the next meeting we are reading David Copperfield (hurrah!) and The Warden (groan)…

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