Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

I am about half way through The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet now and thoroughly enthralled. The opening chapter was gripping, the first section a little slower with many foreign names that I found a little difficult to retain and distinguish (I do think a 'Thousand Autumns' bookmark would be an excellent idea. This is something my mother often does when she is reading a book with foreign names. She makes a list on a piece of card with a one-sentence summary of who they are, and finds it useful for keeping track, especially if she has to put the book down for a while) but after a while I decided to stop worrying and just go with the flow, and found that, very shortly, they became real and distinguishable - thanks, no doubt, to Mitchell's characterisation.

It was set in a small isolated Dutch trading post in Japan at the end of the eighteenth century. The characters are convincingly dishonest and the way some of them are introduced is witty with scenes I think I shall always remember. Conversations have a unique style (at least it is not one I have ever encountered before). The characters speak but as they do there is a short description of unconnected occurrences interwoven with the dialogue. It was like a film sequence in the hands of a skilled director, and to me conveyed an impression of timelessness, and also emphasised the petty nature of some of the human transactions: no matter how much we lie and cheat there will always be the purity of a bird singing or the wind rattling a blind. The world will go on despite all that we do. Maybe that is not what David Mitchell intended at all - but that is how it struck me.

The end of that first section was as stunning as the opening and now I am in the second section and in recognisable David-Mitchell-land, with the voice that I loved in the futuristic parts of 'Cloud Atlas' - although this is set in the past. It is interesting, I think, that the further we get from 'now' the more we are at liberty to imagine and a mythological past is just as satisfying as a fantasical future.


Blogger Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

Ooh ooh - another book I must read! Thanks Clare.

Sun Apr 04, 01:33:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

My pleasure Kay. Yes, I highly recommend!

Sun Apr 04, 01:40:00 pm  
Blogger Anne S said...

Can't wait, but alas I'll have to and it's all your fault Clare (just joking) as I've preordered both your new book and the David Mitchell from Amazon UK and to save on postage opted to have both books sent together, so it'll be June before they arrive. Still it's something to savour in advance.

Mon Apr 05, 11:59:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I've just a hundred pages (of 460) to go now and in that weird state of wanting to finish the book to see how it ends and yet not wanting it to end either because I'm enjoying it so much. It really is quite brilliant.

Thank you so much for ordering my book Anne, but hope very much you leave a good long gap between finishing the Michell and starting my literary offering - because I think most books would fade in comparison.

Mon Apr 05, 12:24:00 pm  
Blogger Anne S said...

In that case I'll go to Amazon UK and change my postage options and hang the cost. That way there will be at least a month between David Mitchell and yourself, though I'm sure your book will hold its own against Mitchell.

Tue Apr 06, 10:53:00 am  
Blogger jem said...

I'm actually feeling quite tickly with excitement at the thought of this book. I love Mitchell so much that I get nervous of each new novel, in case it's a let down, but this one sounds far from that. But of course I've got to tease myself for quite a while longer before I let myself actually read it!

Tue Apr 06, 12:41:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Anne! I do hope you like the Mitchell after all this...this reviewing stuff is such a responsibility sometimes. :-)

I know what you mean, Jem! When it's an author I love - I'm worried I'm going to be disillusioned, and it is such a relief when I'm not.

Tue Apr 06, 07:44:00 pm  

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