BPS Bookclub Review : Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr ( January 2023)

Another fascinating discussion with a range of views and reactions to this book. To try and sum up what was a very lively and entertaining debate, we split as follows : 44% gave it a ‘super great’ score, 37% were fence sitting, seeing the good and the not so good, and 19% have probably used it for home heating purposes already.

So it’s a difficult book to unreservedly recommend, as clearly responses are subjective. Part of the ‘problem’ with this book is its three very different plotlines : one a speculative imagination of life outside of Earth, some point in the future, one a contemporary story of isolation and social anxiety, and the last one a dual strand character study of Omeir and Anna in Constantinople, in the mid 15th century. Oh, and that’s not even counting the ‘chapter bumpers’ of alleged Greek myth and discovery of ancient texts.

The entire structure of the book has been likened to a jigsaw puzzle.  Some readers went along for the ride, confident that the puzzle would be solved in due course. Some actively enjoyed looking for clues and connections. For others it triggered way too much anxiety and irritation about what the heck was going on. And in the end? Yes, it did pull together some very clever connections. Yes, it had quite a satisfying end. Yes, we did emotionally invest in the characters. But how many readers did Anthony Doerr lose, or nearly lose, along the way?

However, in the midst of over – analysing the complicatedstructure of the book, it is easy to overlook some of the lovelier parts of this writing. There were some moving and poignant human and animal interactions, and a real sensitivity in the character portrayal, particularly with Zeno and Seymour. We found ourselves being drawn into each narrative and character as events unfolded.  Doerr does drop clever commentary throughout, acknowledging environmental issues, the state of American culture and extremism, small town culture and even warfare. His aim, with the children performing  the play as a sort of framework, is to perhaps remind us that there is always hope with our next generation; and indeed the biggest lesson is perhaps that we should be content with what we have and acknowledge the importance of home and community.


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