“Readability: This is a book that should, in theory, be a dangerous risk for easily distracted readers like myself, made up as it is of six interconnected, interrupted narratives. I was sucked into each story very rapidly, then spat back out again into something new without a resolution to the current section's predecessor (countless people have described the structure of the novel better than I ever could, and the matryoshka doll description is absolutely the best: Mitchell pops his stories out in ever more intricate, beautiful detail, then ties them all back up neatly at the end), but not once did I consider, even briefly, giving up on this incredible novel. Each section is unbelievably well written and incredibly readable, and despite the range of distinctive genres here Mitchell manages to capture them all uniquely, yet with his own cleverness a linking thread throughout. What he does with language is fantastic, especially in the two 'future' sections of the books, where the dialogue and colloquialisms are a brilliant mix of plausibly familiar and exotically strange. It did take me longer to read this book than usual, but I'm marking that down to laziness on my part and an overload of long, absorbing books that make it impossible to get anything boringly practical done, like eating/sleeping/being-vaguely-sociable-at-the-bare-minimum-level/working. If it wasn't for the reluctant necessity of those things, I think I would quite happily have buried myself in this book and read it cover-to-cover greedily, and it has shot right to the top of my list of books I will encourage all of my friends to read.
Impact: What struck me most about this book was how much fun it was to read - I was genuinely delighted anew on every single page, and grinned throughout. I also kept talking about it to people, more so than normal, just because I was struck by how unique and fun the whole thing was. I could just imagine Mitchell having a really good time writing it, because it seemed so playful as regards tone and genre - historical and speculative fiction all in one book! The matryoshka metaphor works here too because the whole thing was a kind of wondrous, beautiful creation; language and style and ideas pulled apart and looked at, then pulled apart to reveal something else. But, yes, there is still the fact that I have given the book four stars, not five. If it was out of ten, I would give it nine, or nine-and-a-half, which would be much fairer, but I can't quite make myself click the fiver button. I actually feel horribly guilty about it, because this isn't just a good book, it's a great book, and I'd recommend it all over the place and would definitely re-read it. However, one element of the linked narratives bothered me somewhat, namely, the similar birthmarks. The stories were connected anyway by simpler, less magical ways, and that connection felt incredibly authorial in a way that the rest of the book didn't - despite the trappings of the genre switches and the oniony layers of fictional author of one style to fictional author of the next, and so on, Mitchell had still written a book that was engrossing enough for me to forget that it was a book, which is something that is becoming increasingly important to me when I'm reading. It's mostly a matter of personal taste, but while I'm reading a book, I like to forget that it was written - I want to feel completely immersed in a world without the constant nagging knowledge that it is fictional. After I've finished, I love to find out more about the author and to dissect a particularly good novel with friends, but I'm not a great fan of being jarred out of something so good by a subtle but strong reminder that this is a construction. Some books are tailored for exactly this kind of meta-fiction purpose, but for me it seemed a little bit out of place, or at least, not as skilfully handled as Mitchell had managed to be in every other aspect. It's entirely possible that I’m missing the whole point of what he was trying to do, or that I simply don't appreciate or understand it, but it did niggle at me somewhat. That isn't to say, though, that I didn't adore this book, and it has made me go out and purchase Mitchell's other books, and I hope he'll write many, many more.”
maxine-faye wrote this review Wednesday, August 31, 2011.