Timothy Cavendish begins his memoir with a mugging. His own, by three pubescent teenagers who steal his dignity with his watch and leave his sixty-odd-year body bruised and embarrassed on the posh streets of London. The story spirals downward from there.
His true troubles began on the night of the Lemon Prize Awards at the Starlight Bar. All of London’s publishing elite were present including Cavendish’s less than welcome client, Dermot Hoggins, a malcontent author of Knuckle Sandwich, also a memoir.
Hoggins confronted Cavendish on the bar’s balcony over the lack of publicity surrounding his book. Cavendish pacified him by saying it would take time for his book to be noticed. Hoggins then saw the celebrated critic, Sir Felix Finch, who gave Knuckle Sandwich a poor review, calling it a waste of paper.
Shocked, Cavendish watched as Hoggins banged two trays together in an attempt to get the party’s attention and announced that Sir Felix Finch had won an award with a prize. Finch flippantly hoped aloud it would not be a signed copy of Knuckle Sandwich. In response Hoggins took Finch by his lapels and dragged him to the balcony. Then he threw the critic over. Hoggins watched Finch fall twelve stories to his death and afterward he casually walked over to a table and eat an hors d'oeuvre..
The partygoers scattered in shock. Timothy Cavendish alone saw the silver lining of the situation and quickly ordered more copies of Hoggins’ memoir from the printer. Knuckle Sandwish was an instant best-seller and although Hoggins went to prison for his actions, Cavendish amassed a small fortune over the book’s success. For the first time in a long time, Cavendish Publishing was on the rise.
Unfortunately, Cavendish and his loyal secretary, Mrs. Latham, were still unable to keep up with all of their creditors and were soon marred in debt again. Cavendish’s wife had also left him and he found himself one day, alone, in his office where he usually played Minesweeper on his new word processor but was now on the toilet reading new manuscripts when Hoggins’ three brothers, Eddie, Mozza, and Jarvis, kicked down his door and accosted him, demanding he pay Hoggins more money for the sales of his book. Cavendish tried to explain that Hoggins had signed the copyright of the book over to Cavendish Publishing but the brutish brothers would not listen and gave Cavendish until the next day to come up with £50,000 or else. They left, threatening sever spinal injury should Cavendish try to weasel out of their deal.
Almost all of the money from Knuckle Sandwich had been used to clear past debts and Mrs. Latham was unable to find even $5,000 of ready cash in the company’s funds. Cavendish tried in despair to sell his desk to a museum, claiming it had once belonged to Charles Dickens but was denied as they already had Dickens’ desk. He tried friends and even his ex-wife but no one would help him. In desperation he turned to his brother, Denholme or Denny for a loan. A long history of animosity lay between them. Cavendish had had an affair with Denny’s wife, Georgette, in the past. Denny could not give his brother money as he too was in a financial bind but he offered to put Cavendish up as a favor in a comfortable home in the country where no one would think to look for him.
Cavendish readily agreed and was soon at Kings Cross Station on his was to Hull, waiting in a queue to speak to a ticket seller. He had trouble with the automated ticket machine and could not figure out how it worked. After a minor scuffle with London’s youth, Cavendish boarded the train and watched the ancient countryside of England pass by. He remembered the days of his childhood in Essex and found himself longing for yesteryear and wonder if all of his old haunts had been turned into shopping malls and experimental cloning facilities imported from Korea.
The train was stopped and Cavendish waited with the other passengers onboard. As time passed he read a new manuscript that had been sent to his publishing house for consideration. The manuscript was called Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery by Hilary V. Hush. Cavendish was not very impressed with the book’s writing style calling it “artily-fartsily lever” and poking fun at its high concepts with one eye toward the adapted screenplay.
An announcer came over the loud speaker and said that the train would not be able to move on and that the passengers would have to disembark. Disgruntled, Cavendish exited and found himself near a childhood friend’s home. Ursula, his once potential lover, still lived in Dockery House. Cavendish peered in through the windows, watching Ursula cheerfully play with her grandchildren as they paraded around in Halloween costumes. One of the grandchildren spotted Cavendish peeping through the windows and he quickly departed.
He spent the day in a dingy hotel, reading Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery and later that night, before he left for Hull, he had a terrible encounter in the bathroom of a café with a young man who intimidated him into taking drugs. Cavendish, not much of a substance abuser, reacted badly and remembered little of his ride to Aurora House in Hull, a city in Yorkshire, England.
Cavendish was in a taxi outside of the estate. As his mind began to clear from its drug haze he realized his wallet had been stolen. He paid the driver with sixteen quid in change from his pocket, exited the vehicle, and immediately fell into a ditch. Suddenly feeling very old and foolish, he trekked up the path to Aurora House.
Once inside he was approached by a kind receptionist who asked him to sign in at the desk and then showed him to his room. Grateful for the hospitality, Cavendish settled in for the night, content that tomorrow would be a better day. Instead he awoke to find a woman going through his personal belongings. Cursing at her and calling her a thief, the woman introduced herself as Nurse Noakes and threatened to wash his mouth out with soap. “Beware… I never make idle threats, Mr. Cavendish. Never” (173). Cavendish threatened to call the police and she slapped him hard across the face and told him to come down to breakfast.
Infuriated and utterly bewildered Cavendish went downstairs to the receptionist to complain. On the way he passed a large dining room full of the elderly. Suddenly, he realized Aurora House was a nursing home.
Cavendish spoke with Mrs. Judd, the receptionist from the previous night, and tried to explain that it was all a mistake, that he did not belong at Aurora House, and it was his brother’s idea of joke and he wanted to leave. Mrs. Judd showed him the papers he had signed last night which were not a hotel registry but documents declaring him a resident of Aurora House.
In a panic Cavendish broke the lock on the front door and ran outside. Not knowing his whereabouts he ran around the estate and ended up not on a road but near a burly gamekeeper. In full view of the dining room, where the residents watched, the gamekeeper, Mr. Withers, picked Cavendish up like a rag doll and threw him over his shoulder. Cavendish bit his ear and Withers pulled down the old man’s pants and beat him with a cane on his bare buttocks until Nurse Noakes arrived and stopped the spanking. Crestfallen and bruised, Cavendish returned to his room.
There he plotted revenge and thought out elaborate plans of escape. His only hope was that Mrs. Latham would report him missing. Later two residents came in and warned him about the dangers of upsetting Noakes and the other staff at Aurora House. They advised him to do as he was told or the staff would sedate him with medication.
Cavendish realized if he continued to rant and rave it would only further prove that he belonged in a nursing home. The smart thing to do would be to blend in. Yet, he feared people like Noakes who abused their limited power would be unable to resist using him as an example to tame the other residents. Drawing on tips he picked up on how to survive in prison from Knuckle Sandwich he began to devise a strategy for escape based on subterfuge. Then he eat a forkful of peas from his cold dinner and the world darkened.
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish Section One Analysis
Timothy Cavendish’s first person narration allows the reader a narrow yet detailed account of his “ghastly ordeal.” Glossing over his own character flaws, Cavendish draws the reader into his world with his wit and humor. Speaking directly to the reader at times, he peppers his memoir with insightful observations of his surroundings and perhaps a exaggerated view of the circumstances leading up to and including his unintentional incarceration at Aurora House.
The language within The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is written in the traditional memoir style with a sardonic flair that emphasizes the main character’s witticisms and overly cankerous opinions. Cavendish’s sarcastic word choices and brutally honest descriptions help set the embellished tone of the section which contributes nicely to the domino effect of Cavendish’s actions and reactions. He tends to observe the world around him as either a threat or treat and acts accordingly. Note that Cavendish, like Robert Frobisher does not easily admit fault and is prone to bigotry and complains about everyone and everything, a quality which adds depth to his disagreeable yet oddly likable persona.
Although all of the sections of Cloud Atlas are written well, the author appears to have taken particular care of Cavendish’s story, crafting it so beautifully that it feels slightly out of place in comparison. It is the only section set in the contemporary era and in the author’s country of origin. Cavendish’s storyline is a microcosmic event centered on his own misadventures and is not weighted down by larger issues as are some of the other sections, especially that of Sonmi-451. Cavendish cares mostly for himself and his own wellbeing, reminding the reader of the narcissism of Robert Frobisher also a son of England.
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish takes place in England, first in metropolitan London and later in barren Hull located in the north country near the border of Scotland. Note the isolation of Hull in comparison to the chaos of London. The train ride to Hull also demonstrates Cavendish’s penchant toward nostalgia especially during his stop at the home of his former lover, Ursula, who is now a grandmother. His thoughts of the past influence his distain for the present and perhaps the future as his foreshadowing comment about the Korean cloning facility will proof important in the next section in An Orison of Sonmi-451. A pointed note on characterization occurs when Cavendish spies on Ursula and her family from the window. It is evident once he travels toward Hull that he is entirely alone in this world and has isolated himself to such a degree that no one even reports him missing. In London he leaves behind all who knew him well but also his identity which is associated almost exclusively with his publishing house.
While in London Cavendish is a vanity publisher, not at the top of his game but still a viable player. He is in his late sixties but obviously still able to care for himself. He does not consider himself old but his mugging at the beginning of the section by three teens sets in motion his central thesis that the contemporary world is not made for the elderly. His imprisonment in Aurora House enlightens him to the idea that like the sick and the dying, the elderly are seen as unproductive and are shunted away in homes and facilities designed to create the illusion of comfort while waiting for the end. Cavendish’s blunt yet hysterical commentary bring an enlightened perspective on the value of human life in relation to age in a work-centric society. Of what value are those who cannot work to a society that is economically based and culturally saturated in consumerism? Cavendish wishes to prove that he is still of some value and that age, like illness, does not diminish his ability to contribute to the workforce. As a publisher of autobiographies like Knuckle Sandwish, Cavendish has benefited from the high demand of consumerism, yet locked away at Aurora House and suffering from the after effects of a drug induced stroke, he finds it very difficult to escape his circumstances.
Deception and truth, two key themes within this section, rival one another in importance. Aurora House is not all it appears to be and Cavendish is quick to realize the deception after Nurse Noakes threatens to make him eat soap, a curious use of foreshadowing where characters in An Orison of Sonmi-451 eat a substance called Soap to survive. Like Luisa Rey, Cavendish wishes to uncover the truth at all costs and find out of how he came to be at Aurora House and how he can escape. No one believes that he was led there under false pretences and the reactions of the staff especially of Noakes and Withers are particularly disturbing as they seem to have lost all compassion for the residents. As Cavendish notes, power in the hands of the cruel and small-minded will often be misused, a concept explored in several other sections of the novel. Yet, as Cavendish’s self value diminishes under the authority of Noakes the reader cannot help but wonder if Cavendish is not getting his just due having been so deceitful in the past himself.