From ocean voyagers, to nuclear physicists and
exploited clones, David Mitchells new novel hops forward through
time towards the end of civilisation.
Cloud Atlas, out on Wednesday, 10th March 2004, is Mitchells
third novel, following on from the success of Ghostwritten and Number
Nine Dream, which was nominated for the Booker Prize.
The book is composed of six stories, emerging out of each other
like Russian dolls as each new narrator discovers the journal, letters,
novel, film and holographic projection (think Princess Lea) of the
The uncompleted successive stories echo with each other through
time until we arrive at the fallen remnants of civilisation at the
centre of the novel.
In the second half of the book each story is completed,
leading us back to the beginning, where reluctant voyager Adam Ewing
finds himself dying aboard ship on the Pacific Ocean.
It's an imaginative, provocative and entertaining journey.
David Mitchell moved to Hiroshima, Japan, in his mid twenties, where
he taught English and decided it was time to get serious about his
After eight years and two successful novels, David returned to the
British Isles, and now hes on his way to Nottingham to talk
about his new book.
Hell be appearing at Waterstones with fellow author David
Peace on Monday, 1st March 2004.
He spoke to me from his home in Cork, Ireland, where he lives a
relaxed life with his Japanese wife and baby daughter.
Have you ever come to Nottingham before?
No, I havent. Its one of the last great unknown British
cities for me. Im really looking forward to it.
Do you have any plans for things to do while youre here?
David Peace has told me that Nottingham has one of the oldest pubs
in the country, so were hoping to hunt that down. One thing
I really missed in Japan was British Indian cuisine, and Ive
heard Nottingham is one of the best in the country for that. So
itll be a pint in the oldest pub and a meal in one of the
best Indian restaurants as well.
You got a travel scholarship to research your book. Can you tell
me more about that?
When I went to New Zealand I used part of the money to fly myself
out to the remote Chatham Islands, which appear in the book, just
to get a feel for the landscape, the weather and the mood of the
place. The next year I used the second half of the money to do added
extras around Hawaii. I went walking on lava fields.
Do you travel a lot?
When I lived in Japan I used to do an annual trip. Now Im
a father Ive got some more immediate responsibilities at home
and cant really swan off for quite so long. In a publicity
year the trick is to combine wanderlust fulfillment with book business.
In Japan you were a foreigner in an alien environment, and in
Cloud Atlas many of the main characters find themselves in similarly
alien environments. Did you write the characters into those situations
Probably not actually. But I have noticed the same thing about Cloud
Atlas people tend to be isolated and trapped, which might
have been what its like walking around Japan for the first
couple of years. I think rather than me choosing consciously the
predicaments of my characters it more just comes through on a fairly
unconscious level. I think artists have a sort of inner architecture
that is made manifest in the art work.
What affect did being a foreigner in Japan have on you and your
Inner monologues. Ive only ever written once in the third
person [The Luisa Rey Mystery in Cloud Atlas], everything else is
first person. I think one explanation for that is wandering around
for all those years in Japan and not being able to communicate that
fluently. It does turn you in on yourself a little bit. Your environment
effects you wherever you are.
How good is your Japanese?
I can argue with my wife in Japanese, but I cant win the arguments.
Is that down to the language?
Good point. Shes like most Japanese women. Theyre fairly
softly spoken but that doesnt mean they dont have opinions.
Why did you structure the novel like you have?
The idea of that structure has been knocking about in my head for
years. Its to do with form, the idea of a Russian doll. I
read about an Egyptian Goddess who gave birth to a pregnant daughter,
whose embryo in turn was already pregnant and so on to infinity.
Thats just beautiful. It seems to be a beautiful model for
time as well. Every possible moment is contained in this moment,
regressing on to infinity.
In Ewings final diary entry he warns that a "purely
predatory world shall consume itself", and we can trace this
happening between stories within the novel. Did you feel compelled
to write this novel as a warning to people about the way the world
Compelled is probably too strong. It sounds arrogant if I say that
I David Mitchell wanted to deliver this message to the unthinking
ears of society. Its not really like that at all. Its
simply something that I was attracted to writing so I wrote. Im
not a great deep political thinker. A novelist needs to know his
own strong points and weak points. But I am a novelist with a political
This is the most political of your novels so far. It deals with
sweat-shops, migrants, globalisation and so on. Are these issues
which have struck you since you came back from Japan?
Yes, the excesses of neo-capitalism. But those are also fairly evident
in Japan just watching peoples working patterns and
how grueling they are. I think theres something in the air
at the moment. As evidence Id sight the success of Michael
Moores books. Around the time I was writing Somni 451 I was
reading Fast Food Nation, the expose of the fast food industry in
the States. With feasible science fiction all you have to do is
take whats here already, just take the present and exaggerate
it slightly and youve got some sort of awful grotesque world.
Reading clubs are very trendy in Nottinghamshire at the moment.
If you were to recommend five reads apart from your own books
what would they be?
1. For Esme With Love and Squalor, by J.D. Salinger.
2. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
3. The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber.
4. Le Grand Meaulnes, by Alain Fornier.
5. The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki.
Writers groups are also very popular
in Nottinghamshire. Have you got any advice for Nottinghamshires
1. Take your time.
2. Write your characters autobiographies.
3. Its about people.
4. A quote from Stephen King: "adverbs
are not your friends."
5. Write something every single day, even
if its just three lines. And it doesnt matter if its
any good just write something every day.