on David Mitchell, writing lyrics, and celebrity deaths

Between Bowie and Rickman alone, I’m just shredded to bits.  I have work to do, and I can’t focus.  I have emails to respond to, and I don’t know what to say.  I’m writing this post if only so that I can remember how to put words together.

I have completed my chronological journey through David Mitchell’s work, tidying up my second read of “Bone Clocks” during this morning’s commute.  Even though I’m a little sad that this “project” is over, and that there’s nothing of his imminently appearing on the horizon (even if there are a ton of things coming out eventually), I’m glad that I took the opportunity to read it all.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that he’s become my new favorite author.  I haven’t felt so overwhelmingly book-nerdy since finishing “Infinite Jest” back in college.  Certainly my 2nd reading of “Cloud Atlas” was much more enjoyable than the first, if only because I now have a much better sense of the grander scale that Mitchell is working in.  And seeing familiar characters pop up in different contexts is always neat, and yet it never felt particularly gimmicky; given that all these books are connected, it really just makes them feel somehow truer.  For example:  you already get a really thorough sense of Hugo Lamb when you read his chapter in Bone Clocks, but when you read Black Swan Green, you see him as a teenager through the worshipful eyes of his cousin, and suddenly you have a greater sense of how deep Hugo’s charm is (as well as a brief glimpse of his cunning manipulations).  Similarly, it’s only once you read everything that you see how deep a character like Marinus actually is; it’s one thing to hear him recount his history in Bone Clocks, but it’s quite another to actually be with him in the 1800s in “Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”.  And it’s also interesting to see how larger-scale events correspond throughout his work – one can suddenly see that the futuristic, very troubled Earth presented in the two late sections of Cloud Atlas are part of the same cataclysm that takes place in the coda of Bone Clocks.

Speaking of which – against the recommendations of all my Facebook friends who are also hard-core Mitchell nerds, the wife and I ended up watching the filmed version of “Cloud Atlas“.  Although, if I’m being honest, we only made it through the first hour or so, before we both started fading out.  I have seen enough of it to know that I probably don’t have to finish it, and my wife (who hasn’t read the book) had little to no idea what the hell was going on, and so I don’t think she’s inclined to finish it either.  That being said, I don’t outright hate it, though there’s plenty of things to be intensely disappointed by.  Yes, the chopping up of the book’s structure is terrible – though I suppose I can understand why the filmmakers felt that they had to do it, given that the book is not necessarily jam-packed with excitement and that fitting this entire book into a 3-hour package is going to mean you need to amp up the pacing a bit.  I suppose I can even get behind the idea of having actors playing multiple roles, although that’s not really what the book is about, and it also means that Tom Hanks is horrendously miscast in nearly every role he steps into.  (To be fair to Tom Hanks, though, I’m also dangerously close to overdosing on him, because my son is obsessed with “The Polar Express“, another film in which Tom Hanks plays multiple roles; I think I’ve seen Polar Express at least 30 times since Christmas.)  And to the film’s credit, I am somewhat astonished at how closely some of the film’s visuals matched my own imagined set design – the Frobisher segment in particular is nearly note for note.  Indeed, for all the film’s flaws, you can’t say that the filmmakers weren’t passionate about the project; this is clearly a labor of love.

The problem, really, is that the book’s most visceral appeal (for me, at least) is in its use of language, and in seeing how language evolves in each of the story’s eras, and in the futuristic sections of the film the viewer is never really given an opportunity to let the language’s evolution sink in.  This is most notable in the post-apocalyptic future, which is damn near unintelligible without subtitles.  If I were scoring this using Nathan Rabin’s “World Of Flops” system, I might feel generous enough to give it a “Fiasco”… but I haven’t finished the film, and it’s probably best if I don’t.  But in reading Rabin’s WoF column about the Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending“, this paragraph seems pretty close to capturing what’s up with Cloud Atlas:

…the Wachowskis are auteurs whose failures are as audacious, ambitious, heroically sincere, and achingly romantic as their extraordinary early successes.

As far as filmed adaptations of David Mitchell go, though, I would very highly recommend checking out the 13-minute short film “The Voorman Problem“, which is an adapted excerpt from Mitchell’s second novel, “number9dream” (and which is also later referenced in “Bone Clocks”, as a matter of fact).  It’s very short, excellently cast, exceedingly faithful to the source material, and feels very much like some sort of Twilight Zone nightmare.


 

I was home with my son on Tuesday – he had a bit of a fever – and during his nap I downloaded and started playing Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India.   I’m playing it on XB1 instead of PS4, if only because, for whatever reason, it was available for download on XB1 several hours before it was on PS4, and I needed something to do.  (I suppose I also bought it there because I needed to further justify my purchase of the XB1’s Elite Controller, which is, without a doubt, the greatest game controller ever made.)  I like these sorts of 2.5D stealth platformers, and I just wish I wasn’t so goddamned terrible at this particular one; I can’t tell if the game is really difficult, or if I’m just very bad at it.  It could be both, frankly, for all I know.  It’s certainly very pretty to look at.  If nothing else, it makes me very hungry for Mark of the Ninja 2, which I very much hope is a thing that exists.

I’m not really playing anything else, though, which I’m strangely OK with.  Like I said at the top of this post – I’ve been very much a book nerd for the last few weeks/months, and I haven’t felt so excited about reading in years, and it’s a really pleasant feeling to have.


I’m hell-bent on getting some lyric-writing done, because once I have lyrics I’ll be able to finish this album, and I need to get it out the door while I still like the music.  Have I talked about my struggles with writing lyrics here?  I might have, which is why I’m reluctant to repeat myself.  In any event, the album was conceived under some heavy-duty emotional stress, and even as I’ve managed to extricate myself from within all that baggage, I still have to look at it in order to write about it.  And it’s hard to write about parts of your past when you’re not particularly proud of yourself.  I feel like I need to apologize to everyone I know, which is difficult when the two people I most need to apologize to won’t respond.  (This is actually true; last year I sent out some emails which were quite difficult to write, and never ended up hearing back.)  That said, it’s still gotta get done, and so I’m pleading with whoever’s in charge of this stuff to PLEASE STOP WITH THE DEATHS OF IMPORTANT PEOPLE.  This is hard enough as it is.

 

3 responses

  1. Hey, not all your Facebook friends—I told you to watch Cloud Atlas. Sorry it ended up being a fail, anyway. But Ben Whishaw as Frobisher, right? HE’S SO GOOD. Then again, he’s pretty much always good.

    I also came down here to comment because I had no idea The Voorman Problem was adapted from David Mitchell! Tom Hollander is my #1 celebrity crush (which is saying quite a bit since I’m a hardcore celebrity crusher), and a large part of my family hails from Belgium, so that short couldn’t get much more delightful for me. I caught it the year it released since it was nominated for an Oscar; so glad to see it’s available to stream online. Now I’m even more stoked to dive into Mitchell.

    • Ben Whishaw as Frobisher is the best part of the film, no question. Perfectly cast, and while I haven’t seen the rest of the film, I know the character’s arc and can see that he’d be excellent throughout.
      I’d never even heard about The Voorman Problem until I did some wikipedia searches while doing this Mitchell thing. So glad I got to it. And yeah – I can imagine that it would push all of your buttons!
      Very, very curious to hear your takes on Mitchell, should you decide to dive in. Do you know where you’d start?

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