Helen's in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

If asked to pick my top 10 books, or authors, the list would vary depending on what I’d been reading lately, but without question, the writer Anthony Doerr would be there. I have Petra to thank for introducing me to him, in his book of short stories Memory Wall. Many years ago, she helped those of us on her course appreciate his clever and impactful use of language. I was thrilled to find he’d written novels, too.

A voracious reader, I gobbled up everything Doerr had written: The Shell Collector, About Grace and Four Seasons in Rome (a memoir about a year living there with his wife and baby twins - how did he manage to write anything?) Then his new novel came out: All the Light We Cannot See. Wow! This book is on my top 10 list for sure. It’s the one I’ve given most as a present, the one I even bought a new copy of for myself when it wasn’t returned and I couldn’t remember who’d borrowed it. Read it now, if you haven’t already (but hands off my copy).

In September, I heard his new book Cloud Cuckoo Land had been published. Seven years in the writing, I think it’s even better than All the Light! Yes, of course I’ve already read it and yes, my copy is currently out on loan to trusted friends. In this epic, because it really is an epic, Doerr skilfully weaves five different narratives together into a magnificent and wide ranging story. These narratives include two historical, two present day and one speculative, slightly ahead of us in a very believable future. I don’t want to give any more away, save to say that it’s a masterpiece, an amazing story, well-constructed and well told, and I was drawn in until I no longer wanted to put it down!

Since author talks are now readily available online, I immediately searched for one with Doerr. I found several, and was delighted at his boyish enthusiasms for his research into ‘anything which interested me and about which I wanted to write,’ his enthusiasm and support for public libraries, his complete surprise at his success and in the earnest way he said, ‘I take care with my sentences.’ I can tell you do, Mr Doerr! That’s what my microfiction and flash courses are all about - teaching writers to take care with their sentences! Every word counts, and the way those words are put together count, and I sometimes think that those authors who churn out several books a year maybe should take more care with their sentences.

So, with the long, dark evenings ahead, here’s my five-star recommended read.

Helen Chambers is a flash fiction expert for The Writers Company. You can find more about her here. Her personal website is:

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