Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Clever Puns in Mitchell's Cloud Atlas

Honolulu Fort, 1853
Paul Emmert
(Image from Wikipedia)

David Mitchell reveals his linguistic skill by using subtle puns throughout Cloud Atlas, as with the following sentence describing Honolulu in a setting sometime after Herman Melville's "recent account of the Typee" (Mitchell, page 492), which was published in 1846, and thus putting Mitchell's Adam Ewing character in that Hawaiian port around the time of Emmert's 1853 painting above:
In Honolulu's lawless hive, where vessels of all flags & nations arrive & depart daily, a man may change his name & history between entrée & dessert. (Mitchell, "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing," Cloud Atlas, page 506)
I love that wordplay twixt "arrive & depart" and "entrée & dessert" -- the latter clearly 'readable' as "entering" and "deserting" Honolulu. This is merely one example of many, some even more obscure, as perhaps that between "slooshes" and "Sloosha's":
She pours herself a heavy blue glass and slooshes the liquid around every nook of her mouth. (Mitchell, "Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery," Cloud Atlas, page 414)

Evenin' catched us up early, so we tented on the southly bank o' Sloosha's Crossin', 'cos Waipo River was furyin' with days o' hard rain an' swollen by a spring tide. (Mitchell, "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After," Cloud Atlas, page 239)
I cannot soundly affirm that these latter two terms, "slooshes" and "Sloosha's," genuinely constitute a pun . . . but I suspect one. My doubts, however, stem from being unable to make good sense of any supposed wordplay.

I therefore leave speculation up to closer readers than I . . .

UPDATE: Over a year ago (July 13, 2009) in her annotations to Cloud Atlas on Annotation Nation, Diane Sherlock noted the connection between the "unusual words" that I wonder about above, "slooshes" and "Sloosha's," but she also cites no specific meaning and perhaps considers the pun simply another instance of "joy in the use of language" -- though she does state that "Mitchell uses this [sort of wordplay] to illustrate that even over time, we are all connected by language, by habits, by biology."

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At 6:24 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

Hi, Jeffery,

I'm enjoying reading about Cloud Atlas. Is this the first novel of Mithchell's that you have read? Coincidentally, I started reading Mitchell's first novel, Ghostwritten, a few days ago, and so far I've been very impressed.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, this is my first. I'd never even heard of him before reading a review in the NYT about three weeks ago. I intend to read all his novels and will order them today.

Jeffery Hodges

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