That’s it, I give up. Predestination, the apocalypse, Asia as Future Nightmare, Cloning, Birth Marks, Gay rights, the history of classical music, a One-Flew-Over-the- Cuckoo’s-Nest rip-off and the original inhabitants of New Zealand – all rolled in over 500 pages. It’s called Cloud Atlas and yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
I hate to give up on books half-way through but this novel has been sitting on my desk since November and I just can’t face reading the rest of it, so I’m calling it quits. Gasp. If anyone knows what this book was actually about, I would love for you to fill me in, but I’m just not doing it anymore. And it’s not even because of all the stuff I mentioned above, most of it would do pretty well as subject material by itself. No. I actually got to page 278 and then this happened:
“So many feelin’s I’d got din’t have room ‘nuff for ‘em. O, bein’ young ain’t easy ‘cos ev’rythin’ you’re puzzlin’n’anxin’ you’re puzzlin’n’anxin it for the first time.”
This sure had me puzzling and anxious, or annexing, or even angsting – or whatever the hell anxin means. This manner of writing goes on over 80 pages, it makes up the central part of the book, is crucial to the plot (according to trusty amazon reviews) and is utterly unintelligible. The worst part is that by this point I was not only frustrated but bored in the extreme.
I know this book has received a lot of positive feedback for its supposed literary merit (which in this case just means messing around with narrative structures and language a lot) but it didn’t work for me.
The other day, I watched an interview with Ian McEwan, in which he rather bemusedly told the audience about how he had once tried to help his son write an essay about one of his own books, Enduring Love. Apparently the McEwan & son collaboration got a ‘very bad mark’ because the teacher thought they had the wrong idea about the meaning of the novel, insisting that in fact the stalker character represented the ‘authorial moral centre’ of the story. Ian McEwan himself added rather dryly that he just thought the character was a ‘complete madman’, which made me love the man even more.
Either way, what would you rather read about, moral centre points and confusing narrative structures, or a gut-crushing accident involving a hot-air balloon and a stalking drama, combined with the dynamics of a marriage crashing down? I thought so.
Please, everyone, if you’re going to write, do it for the sake of a great story, compelling characters and fine language, and let’s leave the pretentious baggage at home. No more ‘” F’kugly mindered the goats”* for me, thank you.
*An actual quote from Cloud Atlas, on page 279. At first I thought this was a polite way of writing down a profanity that is pretty commonly used here in Britain, but turns out F’kugly is a name. It does not refer to the ugliness of the goats.