ebook, 704 pages.
Read from October 15 to November 06, 2015.
I picked up this novel for a book club that I was sadly never able to attend due to my move out to Hong Kong. This is the second book that I’ve read by David Mitchell and I’ve been left with the same feelings on this book as I did with first book I read, which happened to be Cloud Atlas (I don’t have a review handy as I read that book before starting up this blog).
Holly is just a child when she starts hearing voices. She nicknames them the “radio people”. Though she doesn’t know it yet, she has an a strong psychic ability that has caught attention of two feuding groups of mystics. One of them with the evil and selfish desire to feed off people’s souls. After a spat with her mother when she is just 15-years-old, the stubborn and head-strong Holly makes a break for the English country side. Days after she runs away, she learns that her youngest brother, Jack, goes missing and is never to be found, a tragedy that haunts Holly and her family for the rest of their lives. The main plot follows Holly and almost every person that she meets throughout her life have a role in her story with the two feuding mystic groups; the one wants to protect Holly and the other that want to destroy her.
True to Mitchell’s style, each chapter of the book is narrated by a new character, and they often only get just the one chapter to tell their part of the story, making for a very innovative way to piece and tell a story. What I really appreciate about Mitchell is how each of his books seem to emphasize a theme of connectedness; all of his characters play a part in a story that is all bigger than themselves, many of the characters unaware of the participation in the story until the very end. A very comforting and inspiring premise for any reader in that perhaps the people that we meet and the choices that we make are also a part of a larger story that we’re not yet aware of yet.
Another unique aspect that Mitchel embodies is the ability to write a novel with fantasy elements that does not read or is classified as a full blown fantasy novel. Mitchell feels like a mix between Neil Gaiman and Haruki Murakami, though not as expertly executed, in that all these authors are able to have fantasy elements mixed in with a real world setting yet not have it come across like fantasy writing.
Mitchell’s execution of his story, I feel, is not efficient as it could be. There are long portions of the book that are hard to follow or feel almost unnecessary. I understand that because each chapter is its own story that sometimes that specific character’s story may not make sense until it’s pieced in by another character’s story, but I felt that some of the transitions were not as smooth as they could be. There were also some chapters/character’s stories that I found to be dull while others I couldn’t get enough of, so it was irritating to have to end a really good chapter only to be left hanging with a really boring chapter to follow it. I had the same problem with Cloud Atlas. I suppose, in terms of life and the people we meet, excitement levels and personalities differ greatly but this is a fiction book that we’re reading so its entertainment value can’t be forgotten either. This is a beefy book too, so the reward and mystery of putting the main story all together is extremely drawn out. In fact, the story takes places over the entirety of Holly’s life.
While I did enjoy this novel a fair bit, I can’t give it more than 3 stars as it didn’t feel like an efficient read. I think people who are not familiar with Mitchell’s style or even those not ready to commit to a large book would struggle a bit with this novel. However, the majority of characters are unique and memorable and while the main story line is a bit confusing, it is definitely intriguing, imaginative, philosophical and mostly enjoyable.