El Hefe at First Showing talked to Tom Tykwer yesterday while doing press for The International and got him to divulge a bit about his next project. Tykwer says he’s about to write a script with the Wachowskis, based on an unlikely novel: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Cue a bit of surprise. If I had to peg which Mitchell novel would have hit screens first I would have said Black Swan Green, which is a pretty straight-forward English coming of age tale. (And there is a BBC4 adaptation in progress by playwright Tony Marchant.)

Cloud Atlas, on the other hand, is almost as post-modern as it gets. The novel is built from six seperate narratives, all written in different styles, which break off partway through as other stories interrupt, then eventually come together at the end. Or that’s what I’m told; I loved Black Swan Green but have bogged down about a hundred pages into Cloud Atlas each of the three times I’ve tried to get through it. (That’s more a comment on me than the novel; as I’m usually doing/watching/reading too many things at once, it often isn’t the right time to tackle something with this sort of ambition.)

Beyond those names — Tykwer, Wachowski, Mitchell! — we don’t know much. Who will direct? Are they adapting all six aspects of the novel, or only selections? Is one writer taking one storyline each? I can’t comment from any position of real authority on the novel, but from my limited experience it seems like cherrypicking a few of the storylines would be futile and counter to the point of the book. Besides, this is the sort of thing the Wachowskis love. It’s a serious challenge, if nothing else. At least they’re not trying to climb one of the more obvious impossible literary mountains.