Sig other was given 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell for Christmas one year, and I read it before he did and fell for it totally. I have been working my way through his others, which I will come to writing about in due course. This one is actually a bit different from the others I have read so far, in that it is a single story, about a boy growing up, a little, in a village in the 1982 English Midlands. This is a background quite a long way from my own - in 1982 I was pushing my thirties and had two children, and I have almost always lived in urban places and not villages - but there is plenty here to recognise. I liked especially the 13-year-old narrator and his take on Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands (he thinks Thatcher is wonderful), and the buttoned-upness of the adult characters reminded me that 1982 was pre reality TV, and things were different then.
The boy has a stammer he manages, mostly, to conceal from his peers (as I did mine) but it seems as though Mitchell may not know what stammering is. The boy calls it Hangman, playing on the removal of the possibility of words in the game, but it is not like that. It is more like an iron bar, or perhaps a horizontal iron door, preventing the words from getting through. Or perhaps each stammerer experiences it differently. I can't know. But I was sometimes not sure about the descriptive language: "birdsong strafed and morsed from the oak on the village green" (p. 139). Although maybe (p. 164) an English church's bells do go "trip, trip. drangg and baloom". A village. "Black Swan Green ain't got space for secrets" (p. 178).
And then suddenly we find ourselves back with the Belgian composer from 'Cloud Atlas' - but why not? (p. 201) And if you haven't read the other book he is still cool. Or at least the storyline is.
He does write very nicely "Listening's reading if you close your eyes" (p. 203) and "a sleek black Porsche lay waiting for its master" (p. 236).
Well, in the end it is a coming-of-age story. A boy grows up, a little. Finds out about girls, a little. Someone dies. A baby is going to be born. A family fractures. A childhood home is left behind. And I guess the period details are right. Part of me wanted to say, though, at the end, that I wasn't quite sure what was the point of it all. It was published in 2006, and reminded me a lot of the Jonathan Coe books, especially 'The Rotters' Club', published several years earlier, not I suppose surprising. When we went to a signing for the French translation of Coe's book about B.S.. Johnson, Coe advised sig other to read Mitchell, in fact this very book, to experience a sense of place and time.