Thursday, September 15, 2011

Richard On Storytelling and "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish"

[Spoilers galore; read after Section 4]

Like many/most postmodern novels, Cloud Atlas is concerned with the idea of storytelling and with foregrounding its own narrative devices and trickery. Let's review for a sec. Section 1's journal of Adam Ewing is discovered by Robert Frobisher in Section 2. Frobisher's letters are read by Sixsmith in Section 3 and by Louisa (who shares a comet-shaped birthmark with Frobisher: what in hell?). And Section 4's Timothy Cavendish, a publisher, is reading Half Lives: The First Louisa Rey Mystery (as I surmised in a previous post, it's indeed a manuscript).

Okay, let's talk Section 4. "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" sounds like a Poe title, and indeed Poe's "The Black Cat" gets a nod at one point, but perhaps the true genre of this section is a bizarre (and very funny) variation on a certain kind of B-movie in which the sane hero is mistaken and imprisoned (the genre is also directly referenced). Whereas the first three sections were (relatively) straightforward takes on journals, letters, and mystery novels, respectively, this section seems to me the most obviously "post-modern," full of dense wordplay and clever (obnoxious?) self-referential moments such as Cavendish professing a disdain for "flashbacks, foreshadowing, and tricksy devices" which "belong in the 1980's with M.A's in postmodernism and chaos theory" even though his own writing (and Mitchell's) is full of such "tricksiness."

Points for discussion:

The similarities between Frobisher and Cavendish are intriguing: both are on the run and end up engaged/imprisoned in strange, farcical situations.

Best euphemism for male genitalia:

"Prince Rupert and the Boys failed to stir."

Favorite line:

"Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms round the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage."

And for Bananasuit, a reference to a banana suit:

" malcontent author wore a banana suit over a chocolate shirt and a Ribena tie."

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