Context: Started this in the UK and finished it off on the lawn at my mum’s in Portugal.
I know this book has had a lot of praise and so I had high expectations from it. It was clever yes but it wasn’t as earth-shattering as I’d been lead to believe from the cover reviews. In fact, I almost doubted it entirely when I saw it was “Richard and Judy Book of the Year.”
Still, it had an important message and one which, I’m thankful to say, was clearly communicated.
In fact, the strength of the book lies in it using an age-old technique to help us examine an age-old problem. It uses parables to raise our awareness of selfishness and the danger this poses for our existence.
The book contains 6 short stories in ascending and then descending chronological order with five split in half around a central one. While this seems fun to start off with, by the time I got to the middle of the book and was none the wiser as to what was going on, I was tiring of the lack of plot development and half-built characters. It’s a big novel to have to wait so long for any sense of cohesion.
I guess it’s a novel way of writing but I don’t see why it couldn’t have been written either one way or the other chronologically. Is it merely a gimmick?
As for the message, well, it’s a critique of selfishness and an attempt to spur us on to live better lives in order to rid our world of it. But the main problem with the book in this department is that the six parables are so unlike the average reader’s everyday life that what is blatantly obvious justice on the page can easily go unnoticed in our realities.
It’s easy to stand up to fraudulant business practice on a grand scale but harder to keep the speed limit in an urban housing estate. It’s much much easier to condemn genocide than to address the anger we bear our neighbour for playing loud music.
Jesus spoke to heart of this when he said that if we are angry we are as guilty as if we commit murder. A character of Mitchell’s asks “Is this the entropy written within our nature?” Jesus said it was.
Justice for us all would mean humanity’s annihilation. We need more than justice. We need grace and forgiveness and that’s something even as cleverly worked a humanitarian message as Cloud Atlas cannot offer us.
But while it can offer us no solution to our present state of being. I felt encouraged by the final encouragement to go against the flow and commit to bringing social change no matter what the opinion of those around me. That’s something I’ve been battling this week and so it was a helpful message for me.
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?
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