Cloud Atlas Paperback – 22 Nov 2012
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It's hard not to become ensnared by words beginning with the letter B, when attempting to describe Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's third novel. It's a big book, for start, bold in scope and execution--a bravura literary performance, possibly. (Let's steer clear of breathtaking for now.) Then, of course, Mitchell was among Granta's Best of Young British Novelists and his second novel number9dreamwas shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Characters with birthmarks in the shape of comets are a motif; as are boats. Oh and one of the six narratives strands of the book--where coincidentally Robert Frobisher, a young composer, dreams up "a sextet for overlapping soloists" entitled Cloud Atlas--is set in Belgium, not far from Bruges. (See what I mean?)
Structured rather akin to a Chinese puzzle or a set of Matrioshka dolls, there are dazzling shifts in genre and voice and the stories leak into each other with incidents and people being passed on like batons in a relay race. The 19th-century journals of an American notary in the Pacific that open the novel are subsequently unearthed 80 years later on by Frobisher in the library of the ageing, syphilitic maestro he's trying to fleece. Frobisher's waspish letters to his old Cambridge crony, Rufus Sexsmith, in turn surface when Rufus, (by the 1970s a leading nuclear scientist) is murdered. A novelistic account of the journalist Luisa Rey's investigation into Rufus' death finds its way to Timothy Cavendish, a London vanity publisher with an author who has an ingenious method of silencing a snide reviewer. And in a near-dystopian Blade Runner-esque future, a genetically engineered fast food waitress sees a movie based on Cavendish's unfortunate internment in a Hull retirement home. (Cavendish himself wonders how a director called Lars might wish to tackle his plight). All this is less tricky than it sounds, only the lone "Zachary" chapter, told in Pacific Islander dialect (all "dingos'n'ravens", "brekker" and "f'llowin'"s) is an exercise in style too far. Not all the threads quite connect but nonetheless Mitchell binds them into a quite spellbinding rumination on human nature, power, oppression, race, colonialism and consumerism. --Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A remarkable book ... there won't be a bigger, bolder novel this year. (Guardian)
An impeccable dance of genres . . . an elegiac, radiant festival of prescience, meditation and entertainment. (Neel Mukherjee The Times)
A singular achievement, from an author of extraordinary ambition and skill. (Matt Thorne Independent on Sunday)
David Mitchell entices his readers onto a rollercoaster, and at first they wonder if they want to get off. Then - at least in my case - they can't bear the journey to end. (AS Byatt Guardian)
Mitchell's storytelling in Cloud Atlas is of the best. (Lawrence Norfolk Independent)
Impeccably structured novel of ideas in many voices by a talent to watch. (Literary Editor's Best Books Observer)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
And also! As well as having the earlier stories enclosing the later ones, within the structure of the book, Mitchell also has - fictionally and chronologically - the later stories enclosing the earlier ones. By this I mean within each story, the protagonist is aware of the story which has just been interrupted.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's a good book and a good film. It does often feel like you are reading a screenplay and the characters are difficult to really engage with and yet it makes you want to keep... Read morePublished 10 days ago by Emma
Having loved Bone Clocks and Black Swan Green I was expecting great things from this book and while I enjoyed parts of it, I didn't feel as engaged by itPublished 17 days ago by Anna
Took a bit of time to get into, but definitely worth sticking with. Totally different to anything I've read before.Published 19 days ago by Alan
I loved this book. It's very different from anything else I've read. A few different stories set in different time periods all subtly linked. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Not for me. Too confusing. Odd language that I just couldn't decipher so it just didn't flow.Published 1 month ago by S & R N FULLER
Terrible quality book was basically in tatters when it arrived pages bent and ripped cover wouldn't recommendPublished 1 month ago by Masie
David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas
Reading this novel a second time after almost 10 years, and the sense of awe it evoked then has not dimmed for me. Read more