David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” – the miracle of imagination

What was going on in David Mitchell’s head while he was writing his stunning novel “Cloud Atlas”? 

Brain scientists could probably have mapped the electrical and chemical activity. His wife would have been able to detail his distractedness from the day-to-day demands of family life in their home in Ireland.

None of that technical or domestic information would give us much of a clue about how Mitchell conceived of a 19th century notary by the name of Adam Ewing writing a journal in the Pacific that gets discovered in 1931 by a frustrated composer Robert Frobisher working in Belgium who writes letters to his friend (and apparent lover) Rufus Sixsmith who becomes involved in a 1975 case of corruption involving a California nuclear power plant which is investigated by journalist Luisa Rey and then turned into a novel that falls into the hands in the early 21st century of a British publisher Timothy Cavendish imprisoned against his will in an eccentric nursing home a movie of which is watched by Somni~451 a futuristic clone rebelling against her totalitarian state which itself becomes the subject of a holographic projection viewed by primitive tribesman Zachry in a far off post-apocalyptic future which turns out to be the apex of the novel that then rewinds chronologically revisiting and picking up the story from where it left off earlier involving Somni~451, Timothy Cavendish, Luisa Rey, Rufus Sixsmith, Robert Frobisher, and Adam Ewing.

Are you still with me?

David Mitchell’s imagination somehow came up with this gargantuan story line and then committed it to prose that ranges from lyrically beautiful phrasing to ancient and futuristic dialects that, I presume, are at least in part of Mitchell’s creation.

I’m in awe of the miracle of the imagination, not just the exemplary case-in-point of David Mitchell’s, but of all creative artists.

I’ve had some first-hand experience watching the imagination at work and am as confounded by the process close-up as I am when appreciating the product of someone else’s mind.

I’ve recently written a memoir “August Farewell” and a novel “Searching for Gilead.” The memoir is based on my life with and the death of my long-term gay partner and hence is biographical. But how did I conceive of the structure of integrating vignettes of our thirty-three-year relationship into the day-by-day chronology of the two weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his death? The novel writing is even more of a mystery to me. I knew the general storyline that I wanted to produce but when I would begin a new chapter I often had no idea how it would progress. Like an out-of-body experience, I watched the characters take on a life of their own as they interacted, argued, made love, conspired against one another, and reconciled. It was all coming out of my head, my imagination, but how it evolved seemed only partially a matter of my conscious will and very largely a volatile creative force for which I felt I was not much more than the channel.

Thank goodness for the imagination – one of the miracles of life.

See it on full display in David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”.

* * *

For information on David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, see: http://amzn.to/SdWqRD

For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” including short YouTube book trailers, see my website at http://DavidGHallman.com


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