Curse my mainstream initiation into the delights of literature. Curse Tolkien, Rowling, Neil Gaiman, and George R.R. Martin for their slew of pop fantasy fiction that offers the novelised equivalent of fast food. I’m still paying for my unhealthy literary diet in childhood and adolescence, but it doesn’t help that one or two of said writers have smuggled themselves into my PhD thesis.
Growing up, the bookshelves at home were largely non-fiction fare, weighty tomes of encyclopaedic length, although my Mum had Austen and Brontё alongside her Maeve Binchy collection, but frankly I wasn’t interested. However, we always had plenty of films, whether it was a stash of VHS tapes in the cupboard behind the fridge – assorted sexploitation B-Movies and gory Italian Horrors by directors Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava lurked in that dark and mildewed crevice of the house – or a strange set of Russian language films purchased off the car boot, three for a pound.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), The Mirror (1975), and Stalker (1979) were the bargain trio in question and hence began my education in cinema. Our version of Stalker didn’t come with English subtitles. Although I missed out on the philosophical debates between the film’s characters, I didn’t need them to understand the poetic majesty of Tarkovsky’s cinematography as he charts a quest through a sentient landscape marked by the debris of modern society.
But, for years, I wondered: could a novelist speak to me in the same way as Tarkovsky? In 2012, I stumbled across an odd-ball film by The Wachowskis called Cloud Atlas, and through an investigation into its source text, I unearthed the novelised cousins of Tarkovsky’s ponderings on the human condition: the work of contemporary British author David Mitchell. Whether it is imagining the end of civilisation, dealing in the everyday mundane, reflecting on the ersatz of literary genres, or exposing the atavism at the heart of consumer capitalist society, Mitchell weaves his metaphors with a dazzling combination of verve and aplomb. A crucial motif of his work is eternal recurrence, the elucidation of how history repeats itself in different settings, as the character Luisa Rey remarks in Cloud Atlas: ‘It’s a small world. It keeps re-crossing itself.’ Much like the imagery of Tarkovsky’s lingering shots, Mitchell’s one-liners haunt you long after you close the book: ‘Civilization’s like the economy, or Tinkerbell: If people stop believing it’s real, it dies.’
In the past year, I’ve read Mitchell’s most recent releases: The Bone Clocks and Slade House. The ecocritical ethos of these commentaries on sustainability helped to motivate my tentative steps towards vegetarianism, which I hope will culminate in a wholehearted embrace of a vegan lifestyle. In Mitchell, I have found a series of novels that continue to make me.
— Daniel Clarke