Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 2004.
Great Britain. 1984. The miners’ strike. The government against the people.
On initial publication, twenty years on from the strike, David Peace’s bravura novel GB84 was hugely acclaimed. In a bloody and dramatic fictional portrait of the year that was to leave an indelible mark on the nation’s consciousness, Peace dares to engage with the Britain’s social and political past, bringing it shockingly and brilliantly to life.
Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, inveigles his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. And onward, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.” But the story doesn’t even end there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
The time is the early seventeenth century, as the quarrel between Royalists and Parliamentarians turns toward civil war, and that between Catholics and Protestants leads toward bloody religious tyranny; the place is a town in northern England, set in a grim landscape swept by crop failures, plague and rumors of war, in which rigid Puritans have taken over government and imposed their own rules.
At the center of the novel is John Brigge, the Coroner and a Governor of the town, though not by any means as convinced a zealot as his fellow governors have become. Married and deeply in love with Elizabeth, who is pregnant with their first child, he has a guilty secret to hide in his affection for Dorcas, his wife’s ward—a secret which, in the world of religious prejudice and extremism toward which England is moving, can be lethal. …[more]
It’s midnight in Glasgow as DJ Zaf presents Radio Chandni’s last ever programme. The playlist features songs from the soundtracks of romantic old Indian films, Beatles’ and Stranglers’ classics and the music of Kula Shaker and ADF. As his broadcast goes out, Zaf’s thoughts and memories unfold—a battered black Ford Popular car toiling its way from Lahore to Britain; a shiny blue Kawasaki motorbike flashing through the Scottish countryside; an ex-lover who blames him for all the crap in her life; a fuck-off-we’re-finished note from his white girlfriend; a mother who abandons all that’s safe and familiar to be with the man she loves; a father who doesn’t recognise his son; the once-exotic sight of a sari swishing along the cold wet streets of Govan; a culture defined by something as banal as plastic hankie-box holders decorated with roses; a copper mirror in a singing cave… …[more]