Now that all the excitement over next month's choice has died down, let's get back to some pompous ramblings about Cloud Atlas and the nature of time and history, shall we?
The last time I taught Intro to Fiction, we read a series of books that dealt with history and cultural memory, all of which (to varying degrees) explored time as something more cyclical than linear (those books: Morrison's Song of Solomon; Foer's Everything is Illuminated; Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and Eugenides' Middlesex). Cloud Atlas could certainly be added to the mix (though I probably wouldn't inflict it on hapless sophomores).
For all its undeniable suggestions of reincarnation ("Does death always make you so verbose?" What do you mean 'always?'"), Mitchell's novel is ultimately more interested in historical cycles, in civilizations reaching a peak, destroying themselves in the process, and starting over again. "Eat or be eaten," is Dr. Henry Goose's Darwinian guide to life (and, given the the novel's cannibalism and processed clone meals, it often applies quite literally).
What I love about the latter half of Cloud Atlas is how Mitchell conveys a notion of forward momentum even though we're moving backward in time, imparting a very cyclical notion to the reading process itself (for instance, as Louisa Rey's section ends, she begins to read Frobisher's letters). And, as I surmised in an earlier post, Frobisher's musical composition certainly is meant to mirror the novel's structure, as Frobisher himself describes:
"In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmickry? Shan't know until it's finished."
Oh, Mitchell! You clever, meta bastard. You made for a good start to the PBR Book Club. See you kids at the Replay on Thursday at 8:30!
Best Dirty Joke:
"His favorite position is, uh, called 'the Plumber.' You stay in all day but nobody comes."