“Cloud Atlas” and “The Whole World Over”

I haven’t much time to write a coherent review of each of these books, so I’m going to crib from Amazon to describe the plots. Sorry for that….

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
“… Mitchell’s third novel weaves history, science, suspense, humor and pathos through six separate but loosely related narratives…. this latest foray relies on a kaleidoscopic plot structure that showcases the author’s stylistic virtuosity. Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book. Among the volume’s most engaging story lines is a witty 1930s-era chronicle, via letters, of a young musician’s effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer and a hilarious account of a modern-day vanity publisher who is institutionalized by a stroke and plans a madcap escape in order to return to his literary empire (such as it is).”

As clever as the nested, interwoven stories were, I wasn’t completely engaged while I read them, and I ended the book disappointed. It’s a neat literary trick, and I admit a nice commentary on the human condition — despite the differences in the stories, the conceits and foibles of humankind are the same throughout, ultimately leading to the end of civilization — but it was an awfully disheartening story to read.

The Whole World Over
by Julia Glass
“In her second rich, subtle novel, Glass reveals how the past impinges on the present, and how small incidents of fate and chance determine the future. Greenie Duquette has a small bakery in Manhattan’s West Village that supplies pastries to restaurants, including that of her genial gay friend Walter. When Walter recommends Greenie to the governor of New Mexico, she seizes the chance to become the Southwesterner’s pastry chef and to take a break from her marriage to Alan Glazier, a psychiatrist with hidden issues.”

It’s rare to read a mainstream novel that treats gay characters in a real, sympathetic way as fully-realized human beings and not plot points or commentary on the heterosexual narrative, and I really loved this book for that reason. Her characters are very richly drawn, which is also one of the things I love in fiction. There are times when character’s motivations seemed to shift with no concrete explanation, but not so much that the quality of the story was lost. In all it was a relatively light but pleasing book.

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