Monday, July 12, 2010

David Mitchell: Man of 'Few' Words

Herman Melville
aka Adam Ewing
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently immersed in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, a novel of six stories structured in such a way that each of the first five stories breaks off abruptly, to be picked up in reverse order, somewhat as a mirror-image, and finished, with only the central, sixth story complete in a single reading, or so I infer from a quick riffle through its pages.

I finished the first story, "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing," yesterday or the day before but had already overheard the following admission from Mitchell's interview with the Washington Post, "Book World Talks With David Mitchell" (August 22, 2004):
My character Ewing was (pretty obviously) Melville, but with shorter sentences.
I had mentioned this interview in a previous post, but I'm avoiding further reviews and such so as not to inadvertently come upon any spoilers. Being a somewhat unperspicacious reader, I'm curious about Melville as the prototype for Ewing, so I might look into that tidbit sometime (possibly by reading some of that dark romantic's South Seas adventure stories, e.g., Typee or Omoo?). Meanwhile, here's one of Mitchell's 'short' sentences, the ultimate in his initial story's first half, Mr. Adam Ewing's tale:
Sabbath not being observed on the Prophetess, this morning Henry & I decided to conduct a short Bible Reading in his cabin in the "low-church" style of Ocean Bay's congregation, "astraddle" the forenoon & morning watches so both starboard & port shifts might
And so breaks off this 'short' sentence midway, astraddle (as it were) the subject and missing predicate of that consequential clause . . . or does it end with "attend"? As the astute reader ought also do with such a sentence hanging over one's head.

We'll see if this line gets picked up on beyond its forty-fourth word in the mirror image by book's end, though I won't look ahead, having learned patience in life and the pleasures of deferred gratification.

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