July 01, 2010



I'm totaly with Wood on this one. He clearly shows how Mitchell's post-modernism differs from that of so many others. I still haven't recovered from "The Cloud Atlas".

GG Gaynor

I respect Wood and all, but when he says things like "The persuasive vitality of his stories is strong enough to frighten off their own alienation" he tends to lose me.


GG - You're right, that's very awkwardly expressed. But his general point is still interesting: That Mitchell's story telling ability makes his modernism less distancing than it is in other authors. Which I think is a valid point. Wood just needs a better editor.

GG Gaynor

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that, I just think Wood is a little too stuffy for his own good now and then.

I will admit I might be the only person on the planet who gave up on Cloud Atlas at about the 2/3 point.

Black Swan Green, though, that was a nice little bildungsroman right there.


GG: Slusha's Crossing was the worst part of the novel, which is where most people who give up on it give up.


GG: Honestly, "too stuffy for his own good" does not cover it for me. This review borders on literary masturbation for me. I enjoyed the book, but not this review.


Whatever happens David Mitchell's new novel of interlinked narratives, Cloud Atlas, takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride And you won't want to get off. No more debate


I don't get the fascination with self-consciousness.

Enjoyed the review a lot, though.


Everything OK with Mark?


Has this blog gone dark?

peter carman

just want to say that i am tired of james wood sticking it to paul auster. did auster steal his girlfriend in college or something? it's relentless!

Jonathan Mendelsohn

GG, you aren't alone. I made it through "Cloud Atlas" but found it more slog than pleasure, more clever than heart, more post-modern than just plain good.

I think my issue with Mitchell is that his earlier works, especially "number9dream," feel like Haruki Murakami light. All the surreal magic, not so much of the depth underneath.

That said, in his recent Paris Review interview, that I did find very interesting, Mitchell admits he did once have a big crush on Japan's most famous living author and made it sound like something he has gotten over. In light of this (the getting over Murakami - a thing I have yet to do, by a long shot - and the interesting interview he gave) I think I'm gonna give his new work a shot. Cause even when his work hasn't quite bowled me over, it's still managed to stay with me.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."