David Mitchell’s new novel is a conglomeration of stories wrapped around a paranormal tale. It is admirable in the breadth and depth of research that went into writing a novel with an expanse in time and space.
Immortality versus reincarnation is the field of battle between the Anchorites, who feed on the souls of the living, and the Atemporals (or Horologists), who following death assume a new human body, but with retention of knowledge from their past lives. The principal character, Holly Sykes, unknowingly offers asylum to a Horologist that the Anchorites are trying to liquidate. Holly is the thread that binds the stories: runaway English teenager; waitress at a Swiss ski resort and love affair with a future Anchorite; to life partner with a childhood friend who is a renown war correspondent and father of their daughter; acclaimed author about paranormal; grandmother and guardian of her granddaughter in a post-apocalyptic world. The trip provides a tablet for Mr. Mitchell to express views about British publishing and literary awards; social class at Cambridge; and war in the Middle East. As the Horologists have lived in many countries and during many centuries there is a smattering of culture and history along the way.
The Anchorites are formally The Anchorites of the Chapel of the Dusk of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Order of Sidelhorn Pass. The is some misinformation about the Cathar’s preaching that the world was created by the devil and not God; that matter is evil; and that Jesus was only a man. The Cathars were heretics to the Catholic Church. They did believe that the physical world, including the human body, was created by Satan, but polytheism aside, were more aligned with the New Testament than the Old. They were spiritual descendants of Manicheans, who believed in a spiritual God and not God as creator. Interestingly there are 12 Anchorites, as there are 12 Apostles, including St. Thomas. The twelfth Anchorite, the only non-white Anchorite anda double agent, takes the role of Judas. The second Anchorite is named Immaculée Constantin. Anchorites keep their number to twelve and must source a decantable guest every 3 years. They are taken to the Chapel where the Black Cathar decants the visitors soul into the Black Wine. The 12 anchorites assemble at a ritual known as Rebirthday where they drink the Black Wine. It is all a bit too contrived for me.
The book is most readable prior to the fantastical war between the Anchorites and the Atemporals. It is super-hero, good versus evil. To me, rather boring. It does not get better when the story line becomes post-apocalyptic. If there was an element of science fiction it might be tolerable, but there is no science involved. The story is the result of lazy futuristic musings.
This novel will never be listed for the Booker Prize.
“Last year Sir Roger shocked the arts world by purchasing U.K.’s foremost literary prize, renaming it after himself and trebling the pot to L150,000. Bloggers suggest that his acquisition was prompted by his latest wife, Suze Brittan, whose CV includes a stint as a soup star, face of TV’s book show, The Unputdownables, and now chairperson of the Brittan Prize’s panel of uncorruptible judges. … “I hear what you are saying about Slaughterhouse Five, Lord Brittan.” Nick Greek possesses American self-assurance, Byronic good looks, and I already detest him. “But if I were forced at gunpoint to pick the twentieth-century was novel, I opt for Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. It’s-“
“I knew you’d say that!” Suze Brittan performs a little victory jig. “I adore it. The only war novel to really ‘get’ trench warfare from the German point of view.”
“I wonder, Lady Suze,’ Nick Greek treads delicately, “if you’re thinking of All Quiet on the Western Front-“
I never read Cloud Atlas and I am less inclined to do so after reading this novel. The Naked and the Dead is a lot more inviting.