The Book Cook Look Club is a small Australian based book club combining three much-loved activities: reading, cooking and films. Declan, a member of the club, will be recapping his experience each month right here on The Nerd Daily!
BOOK | One person selects a book for everyone to read over the next month.
COOK | The book selector hosts a dinner party with a themed meal related to the book.
LOOK | We compare the film adaptation to its source material.
If a life amounts to nothing more than one drop in a limitless ocean, then what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?
This is the concept that David Mitchell draws out and examines in Cloud Atlas. Each character is the centre of their own story, and yet every other person they meet is living a life just as incredibly detailed and complex as their own. In the book club’s discussion, our focus was not only on the weaving of this metanarrative, but what exactly defines this style of writing.
After a month off and a few people having to pull out last-minute, the group felt noticeably smaller tonight. But Cassie’s intricate meal plan for the night did not go unappreciated. With three courses, and Cloud Atlas having six main storylines, the maths worked out to be two storyline references per course.
First up: California sushi rolls and pineapple juice.
This entrée was intended to integrate elements of Luisa Rey’s 1970’s Californian mystery-thriller, and Zachry’s Hawaiian post-apocalyptic story.
Cassie, being an aspiring writer, ranks Cloud Atlas as one of her favourite books of all time, and after some dissection the reasons for this became obvious. The premise is that six different people, each living in different periods of history, are reincarnations of each other.
On the surface, they are as unalike as they could possibly be; the witty English bohemian of the 40’s is a far cry from the Korean slave of the future. And yet, while all six reincarnations are vastly different people, they are bound by one simple, overarching desire—to make a mark on the world.
David Mitchell’s ambition to tackle six stories of completely different genres and his success in weaving them all together are essentially what made this book so memorable for Cassie. As we starting to dive deeper down the rabbit hole, our main course was served.
The Korean fried chicken burgers were a manifestation of Somni’s Korean, dystopian fast food occupation. On the side, Cassie’s serving of snow peas referenced one of Timothy Cavendish’s meals in his modern-day British farce.
The direct links between narratives were established through each character pondering the story of their predecessor—whether through a journal, a manuscript, or a film. They consider the main themes and developments of the story they have just perceived, making the exact same assessments that we as readers just made.
This is postmodernism in its purest form. If you have read the club’s previous discussion of Haruki Murakami, you would know that I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. Anything that experiments with conventional narrative structure and pulls it off in a significant, engaging way is absolutely worth putting time into.
Despite each character having their own individual story, they are bound by a singular human experience. Rebellion, secrets, betrayal, love, greed, joy—to address so many general concepts in any meaningful way would seem nearly impossible. But by justifying and exploring each within different contexts, Mitchell paradoxically suggests that the human experience is both incredibly broad and insignificantly tiny.
And then, up came the topic of the film adaptation, just in time for dessert.
Banana pastry, drizzled with Belgian chocolate. These alluded to the 19th century Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, and the letters of Robert Frobisher during his trip to Belgium.
In 2012, Cloud Atlas was turned into a blockbuster film in 2012, directed by the Wachowskis. It was hugely divisive amongst critics, and for good reason.
As Alec dug into the pastry, he expressed his inability to fully invest in any of the stories in the movie, simply because its constant jumping around never allowed enough time to flesh out a single one. It felt like every second scene was a montage, blending together each of the main characters’ narratives in a way that constantly ruined the pacing.
Despite this, I found that the constant cutting between storylines still achieved what the Wachowskis set out to do: to emphasise the parallels between the main characters and their human experiences. Even the casting of actors in similar roles across stories holds some symbolic meaning, with Hugo Weaving generally being the antagonist and Jim Sturgess playing the revolutionary leader across time.
But then there’s the race problem. Even if there was some intention behind the transracial casting, the yellowface is still incredibly jarring and undoubtedly problematic.
We concluded as a group that Cloud Atlas is a metanarrative intended to be read. The overarching questions of life that are so wonderfully fleshed out in those pages cannot be crammed into a movie without losing some of its original impact. The sheer scale of the metanarrative is impressive on its own; the fact that Mitchell pulled this off in such an insightful, humorous, and suspenseful way makes it even more so.
Metanarratives have formed the backbone of culture throughout history. From the Bible to Homer’s Iliad, these are the stories that address our consciousness, free will, and mortality. Ultimately, it is in its examination of humanity within a postmodern age that Cloud Atlas sets itself apart from its ancestors.
Did you enjoy the novel or the film? Tell us your thoughts on either in the comments below!