645 of 650 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly enjoyable
I was expecting to hate this book. I forced myself to try it because people had gone on about it so much, but I really didn't like the descriptions I'd heard: 500-plus pages, visions of a dystopian future, a fractured timescale with six loosely-linked narratives each nested within the previous one, and so on and so on. It just reeked to me of a self-regarding author...
Published on 28 April 2010 by Sid Nuncius
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Patchy
Intriguing, alternately riveting and tedious. It's certainly a fascinating concept and occasionally brilliantly written, but I failed to feel the love some other reviewers have expressed.
FTR: I enjoyed Adam Ewing, adored the amoral Robert Frobisher and his letters to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith, was intrigued by the Luisa Rey mystery and its bleed-through with...
Published 21 months ago by Book Critic
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645 of 650 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly enjoyable,
Well, I was completely wrong. I thought it was absolutely terrific. Interesting, thoughtful, readable and - most surprisingly of all - page-turningly suspenseful and exciting quite a lot of the time. I thought it had a lot of thoughtful and thought-provoking things to say about exploitation and the abuse of power, and about the possible consequences of both humanity and inhumanity. The different voices are really well done, with the historic and present-day(ish) ones sounding absolutely authentic and the future ones chillingly believable both in the language they use and what they say with it. The stories are involving, occasionally humorous, sometimes sad and sometimes extremely touching. For example, the few paragraphs when a character in a train passes some of the places of his youth and sees them much changed are really affecting, I thought, even though the character himself is thoroughly odious.
I doubt whether many people, if any, will read this review among the hundreds of others here, but if you do I would urge you to try the book. Plainly quite a few other reviewers hated the book and did find it as terrible as I expected to. You may hate it too, but you won't have lost much. On the other hand, you may be surprised to find it as enjoyable and rewarding as I did. It's worth the risk - if you do find it's for you, you'll never forget it.
106 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To read, or not to read...,
This review is from: Cloud Atlas (Hardcover)With the mixed reviews, that is the question!
This is a big read. Quite long, and filled with connections, but it is very rewarding.
So, read it if you have the time and the mental energy. On holiday, for example. Do not get this book and think you can do 20 pages a night and just dip into it. It will need your time.
It will also need your patience. I found it hard to get into, and nearly gave up during the first part. Just as I was getting into the first part, it finished and the second part started and I felt like I was starting again.
But keep going and you will get to the point where it all starts to come together.
I would also suggest that you find out as little as possible about the plot. Let the plot reveal itself. Don't read the reviews that give it away and don't surf around looking for comment and insight into it. Let the intricateness reveal itself naturally.
If you have the time and patience you will find a wonderful book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sum of its parts and a hidden author,
Having read it now I wish I had done so earlier.
Trying to explain it in under 300 words is hard. This is a book that is the sum of a number of parts. It is made up of six short novellas. All completely different, set in different times, written in different styles, about different things.
Each story apart from the central sixth is chopped in two. It begins with "The Pacific Journey of Adam Ewing", which is cut short at 40 odd pages by "Letters from Zedelghem", which is in turn cut short by "Half Lives", that by "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish", then "An Orison of Somni-451", then we get the full tale of "Sloosha's Crossin an Ev'rything after", then it works back down through the conclusions of the tales. The structure makes you feel as if you are witnessing something spreading out and then contracting, as the stories concertina outwards and then shrink back in on themselves. A series of Russian dolls.
Each story leaps forward in time about 100 years, the first being in the colonial days in the South Pacific, the central story in a post-apocalyptic world an undefined time in the future.
The stories are linked by the main character of each (which may a reincarnation of the previous) learning the story of the preceeding main character. Indeed it plays with the idea of communication and story telling, using the primary communication tools of the era each story is set in. Diary, then letter, then pulp fiction, then film, then hologram, then back to verbal storytelling. It is a unique and clever device, which at the same time binding the stories, sets each of them apart.
It is such a vast and wide-ranging book, and while each novella could exist on its own and within its genre, it is the combination of them that makes the impact. From the first story, where we learn about the mistreatment of natives by the colonists, to the ruined world of the last, Mitchell provides a collage of times and images that get right to the core of what it means to be human. He discusses our self-destructive nature, our greed for power, our cruelty, and the contradictions of the beauty of friendships and of hope and family loyalty.
This is a hugely ambitious book. It is a brave way of writing. It is never less than highly readable.
On the front cover there are 2 award notifcations, one for the Booker Prize shortlist and one for the Richard and Judy Best Read of the year. This perfectly describes the paradox at the centre of Cloud Atlas. Mitchell has taken the most serious of themes and discussed them cleverly using the most basic of genre tools. It is a plan that is verging on genius.
The downside of this is that he is so proficient at switching styles between the genres that he adopts, so convincing at each, that you get no feel of him as an author. Because the stories are so disparate and so faithful to the styles in which they are written there is no sense of authorial voice at all, in fact it is very hard to get a sense of the writer, he remains hidden behind the stories. But perhaps that is the whole point.
103 of 115 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cumulative Nimbleness,
This review is from: Cloud Atlas (Hardcover)Everything about Cloud Atlas - the elegant and allusive title, the heft of this 540-page hardback (which as well as providing food for thought, doubles as a good cardiovascular workout), the quotes and prize-tips it comes garlanded with, even the bold cover (so idiosyncratically contemporary it should achieve kitsch status within a couple of years) - says: This is a significant book.
And so it is. As you begin to read it, first your opinion rises to meet your expectations, and then continues from there. What Mitchell has done is return to the form of his first novel, Ghostwritten (1999), with a linked set of stories, but with a twist this time. The narrative is less a Russian doll than an onionskin: we get one story which is interrupted by another, and that by another, and so on as we drill through the flesh of the book. At the centre is a whole story, then we return to resume the story it interrupted, then the story *it* interrupted, and so on until the book ends with the conclusion of the story which began it.
Phew. Okay. So there is much to admire here, not only in Mitchell's vast imagination - any lesser writer would have jealously hoarded these ideas to make up six novels and not splurged them all on one; clearly he has no fear of the ideas drying up, but then Iain Banks (of whose generously imaginative early work I was reminded) probably thought that too - but also in his execution of the stories. Each one is perfectly detailed and flawlessly ventriloquised. He successfully completes all of them (which was his stated intention, to reflect the frustration he felt on reading Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, where the many sub-stories all die hanging in the air). The stories have a unifying theme too, of subjugation and rebellion, deepening their superficial appeal, and also of course, we benefit from the dramatic irony of knowing the future for the human race that each character has such great hopes for in their own individual times.
I could end it there and leave you happy in the knowledge that Cloud Atlas was one of the greatest novels of our time. But that would be misleading, because much as I hate to carp on such a monumental achievement - I feel like a vandal scratching at Uluru with a pen-knife - the book is firmly flawed. As the stories break into one another, the sole connection - that each narrator is reading the story in the previous chapter - starts to seem a bit thin and gimmicky. There are attempts to bring deeper connections - two of the characters recur in successive stories, which is a good start - but they fall flat when all Mitchell manages otherwise is to have the protagonists share the same birthmark, to suggest, glibly, that they are related or reincarnated. And I thought Mitchell took a risk in starting and ending the novel (with the explorer story) and centring it (with the post-apocalyptic society: "a young Pacific Islander witnesses the nightfall of science and civilisation" - wow! Sounds fantastic, but isn't) with his least interesting and readable narratives.
I also had grave doubts about the thriller story - not that it is not very well done and highly entertaining. The problem is that, as noted before, the thriller is (it turns out) a manuscript which has been submitted to the vanity publisher: a pure fiction within the fiction of the novel. But this throws the preceding chapters - which are all, presumably, supposed to be "real" within the fiction of the novel - into chaos. If the character in the fictional thriller is reading the letters from the composer, does that make him just a subsidiary character within the thriller? And indeed the explorer whose journals he is reading? Does this even make sense? At least David Mitchell can be satisfied that, if you want to understand what on earth I am talking about when I make these criticisms, you will have to buy the book and read it to find out.
So despite its surface attractions and achievements - and they are many, and many people will devour the book joyfully and without complaint, and good luck to them - I am left with the feeling that, despite Mitchell's cumulative nimbleness, Cloud Atlas is more a trick than a book, to be returned to in parts (the composer's letters and the vanity publisher's "ghastly ordeal" were my favourite parts, both tragicomic and superb first person narratives), but not in whole, not to be lived in and loved over and over until either it falls apart or I do - which is what we want from all our books, after all.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Patchy,
FTR: I enjoyed Adam Ewing, adored the amoral Robert Frobisher and his letters to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith, was intrigued by the Luisa Rey mystery and its bleed-through with Sixsmith and really loved Timothy Cavendish.
Then it all went pear shaped.
I found the futuristic Sonmi~451 tale derivative and a little pointless and Sloosha's Crossin', the story that followed it just plain tedious. It's never easy reading written dialect and this felt about as bad as Trainspotting to me. The story was confusing and annoying and I almost gave up at this point.
Then, like reincarnation, the theme of the book, round we come again for the second part of each of the preceding stories for a fairly satisfying denouement.
It's an interesting experiment. I enjoyed it, but dispute that Cloud Atlas is an especially original, clever or exceptional work.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary and cerebral and wildly entertaining,
Cloud Atlas at its core is about a soul as it lives through a number of human lives over a period of time covering several hundred years. The soul's journey is told through a pyramid of different stories that cover a time from the middle 1800s through to about 2400 and then back again to the middle 1800s. Often through the stories characters pass on details to another story or a character from one story will interact in a later story. Letters, books, movies and ideologies created in one exist in others.
The themes that carry through the stories focus on the fallibility of human nature and moral. It is about man's persistent plight as it endures the internal human conflict while dealing with victimisation and exploitation. For all our awareness for humanity's darkest deeds over the ages, the guises within which they flourish become increasingly obscured and institutionalised. These themes are not preached but woven cleverly and sometimes obscurely into these captivating stories, so that you feel you discovered them and cherish their impact all the more. The narrative is never less than enthralling as we rise up the pyramid of ages and then back down again. With even the weakest story a compelling read for its clever use of the enforced captivity theme.
In contrast to the movie the book isn't sentimental and goes to some effort to avoid symbology, it's never that obvious. My only complaint is that it narrowly fails to deliver through the second half on the promise of the first. But it is a minor grizzle. Cloud Atlas is one of the greatest original novels I've read, with its only peer in this regard being Neil Gaiman's `American Gods'.
Very highly recommended.
65 of 74 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Probably a bit of a Marmite book.,
I have just finished Cloud Atlas after taking it with me on holiday. To be honest I did not enjoy most of it. Indeed after 2 chapters I very nearly gave up on the book.
The novel is essentially six short stories with a tenuous and at best superficial link between them. The stories are written in a variety of presentations and styles and seemed more of a showcase for the authors linguistic talents and maybe his insights and thoughts on humanity through the ages rather than to engage the reader with a good story. While it may be fair to say that the authors grasp of the english language surpasses my own, I am hardly an uneducated philistine but to feel the need to run off to a dictionary at nearly every paragraph is hardly conducive to immersion. Thankfully after the first 2 chapters it becomes a bit easier going. However I still found the authors deliberate mis-spellings of some words more annoying rather than adding to the tales.
The authors choice to split the stories into halves is in my opinion more gimmickry than revolutionary (which he questions himself in the guise of his sextet). The problem is that the stories in themselves are not good enough to keep the reader hooked enough to want to continue to find out the conclusion (maybe with the exception of the futuristic tale) so thus forcing the reader to endure at least half the book before finding any gratification in how any particular story concludes. It's a bit like one of those rambling comedy stories that just goes on for too long before the punchline is reached.
In conclusion I would say that a person should read this book as an exercise in literacy exploration. If however you are looking for a good story to get stuck into, you're better off looking elsewhere.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Clever For me,
Humanity's corrupt nature is portrayed with brutal strength, but we also see examples of courage and morality. The characters are well drawn and there is some stirring action. The end result would be more satisfying if the connections between the scenarios were clearer and if the story had a conclusion. Perhaps I have missed the point.
50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Floating through time,
The basic idea is brilliantly simple. It is a novel comprising six shorter stories. Each story is set in a distinct period of history, and links with its chronological successor in a variety of subtle ways. The delicate threads of continuity are reworked at every stage, ensuring that the novel lives up to its name. Souls migrate across time and place in Mitchell's world as effortlessly as clouds drift across the sky.
It would have been easy to simply have six distinct but linked short stories, building to a crescendo in time. Mitchell eschews this and adopts a more unique storytelling method. Each story, bar the final, post apocalyptic tale which straddles the middle of the book, is split in two. Its successor begins halfway through the predecessor, only to be resumed in reverse order in the second half of the book. It might sound contrived or difficult to follow, but it is a device that lends to the whimsical nature of the story as a whole, and adds to the suspense for each individual tale.
The links between characters of the different times are strengthened as each seems to be aware of their antecedents, by way of reading their journal, their letters or seeing the hologramatic recording of their narrative. The second half of each story is only resumed when the character finds the missing half of that book, recording or stash of letters.
The above may give the impression that the structure is more important than the writing, that the book is little more than a very clever idea with little substance. What makes Cloud Atlas so successful and compelling is that Mitchell's writing is quite simply beautiful. He manages to paint six very different stories with a narrative brush wide enough to cover historical fiction, a contemporary thriller, a futuristic vision of society and a post-apocalyptic world reduced to the stone age. Each is told in a very different voice, and Mitchell has used his words to create clear motifs for each story, narrative stamps which mark each of the six tales as being as independent as they are interdependent.
And taken collectively the book manages to achieve more than the sum of its parts. Each of the stories is entertaining, but it is only in the majestic swoop, the creation of a story that straddles centuries, continents, families, friends and lovers.
This book is a flash of brilliance, as bright as the comets that serve as a motif binding the characters.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious cack,
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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (Paperback - 22 Nov 2012)