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Cloud Atlas [Paperback]

David Mitchell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 17 2004
From David Mitchell, the Booker Prize nominee, award-winning writer and one of the featured authors in Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists 2003” issue, comes his highly anticipated third novel, a work of mind-bending imagination and scope.

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation -- the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’ s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

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From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

At once audacious, dazzling, pretentious and infuriating, Mitchell's third novel weaves history, science, suspense, humor and pathos through six separate but loosely related narratives. Like Mitchell's previous works, Ghostwritten and number9dream (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize), this latest foray relies on a kaleidoscopic plot structure that showcases the author's stylistic virtuosity. Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book. Among the volume's most engaging story lines is a witty 1930s-era chronicle, via letters, of a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer and a hilarious account of a modern-day vanity publisher who is institutionalized by a stroke and plans a madcap escape in order to return to his literary empire (such as it is). Mitchell's ability to throw his voice may remind some readers of David Foster Wallace, though the intermittent hollowness of his ventriloquism frustrates. Still, readers who enjoy the "novel as puzzle" will find much to savor in this original and occasionally very entertaining work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and infuriating Dec 1 2011
By Samantha TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a work of genius, there is no doubt about that. Stylistically innovative, it is a literary masterpiece. The novel begins with a partial journal from the 1800's, moves to letters from 1931 Belgium, then the first half of a novel based in the 1970's, followed by the "ghastly ordeal" of the publisher of the novel, next a partial video transcript from the future, then at the centre, a "yarn" from the further future. Then it works backwards to the beginning starting with the rest of the video transcript, followed by the publisher, the novel, the rest of the letters and finally the end of the journal. Until the middle of the 500 page tome, I was really irritated by the language. While skillful and clever, it seemed an awful lot of work, and a bit haughty. However, once I reached the centrepiece, a futuristic tale from "after the fall" of civilization, I realized I was in love. I loved the hillbilly-like language and the archaic tribal life portrayed. Once that part was finished though, I was again irritated. It is not the kind of book one can skim, so I plodded on, reading word after word, at once charmed and vexed. I cheered when finished, thrilled that I had made the full journey without once throwing the book across the room. Was it worth it? Yes, because it really is genius. But if you're not in love with language, be cautious: this is no beach read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the greatest books I've ever read May 25 2006
By Maggie
Format:Paperback
As soon as I finished reading this book, I wanted to start reading it again. I love it, I love it, I love it. The language is out of this world - clever, funny, poetic, just good fun. The plots are exciting and intriguing. The imagination is unbelievable. The messages are thought-provoking and timely. Don't be put off because there are many different sub-stories. I hate short stories, yet I loved this book. I have been telling everyone I know that they MUST read this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Writing but Overambitious Jan. 15 2013
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
When I heard about the movie “Cloud Atlas,” I was intrigued enough about its unconventional storyline and narrative to want to read the book on which it was based. A story that spans several centuries and told from different voices and perspectives, with elements of thriller, historical and science fiction, seemed like a perfect match for my own interests. However, while it has certainly turned out to be a technically and narratively remarkable book, I was decidedly underwhelmed with it.

“Cloud Atlas” is comprised with six different stories, each of which except the sixth is punctured in the middle with the subsequent one, only to be returned to in the inverse order later on. The book has a form of one-dimensional nested Russian-doll. This is a very clever and technically challenging narrative structure, and with the right kind of material it could have been a real masterpiece. However, in the end I didn’t find this working out all that well. First of all, the stories are VERY loosely related to each other. Their tenuous connection relies more on insinuations, allusions, off-narrative developments, and certain stratagems (reincarnation?) that are never fully and explicitly developed and feel more like deus ex machina ploys than organic plot developments. Furthermore, it was really hard for me to get into most of these stories, with an exception of maybe one and a half of them. They seemed contrived, and it was not easy to start carrying for a whole new set of characters every forty pages or so. And once I did, the stories abruptly broke off, oftentimes at some of the most interesting points. By the time I returned to them, I had mostly forgotten what they were about in the first place, and cared even less about “what happens next.”

Finally, there is the whole issue of language.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant work. Nov. 22 2006
Format:Paperback
Mitchell's ability to write in different styles is remarkable. He is a master writer who can embody radically different voices. Each of the plots and characters intrigued me, but I particularly enjoyed both sci-fi plots. Also, the "conincidental" links between each of the plots, while loose ties, work for me.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The connectedness of everything July 31 2006
Format:Paperback
You can call it the "small world" phenomena, or the theory that everything is connected. But David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas portrays a sometimes tight and sometimes loose connection of six pieces of time and the characters in them. Each of the separate stories is invididual and very well written, with characters that bring out emotions in the reader one way or the other...yet each story is pulled together.

The book is written as a wrapper, with half of the first five stories started as incomplete, then the complete sixth, followed by the last halves of the five in reverse order, revealing or completing the revelation of how they are interconnected.

The author captures the "voice" of each of the characters, their situations and time periods admirably. From the obviously 17-1800's based Adam Ewing on a sea voyage to Robert the moocher who finally finds inspiration, and inspires others in the story, to the futuristic times where life has gone backwards into kind of a stone age...very little description of the environment, but you can see it in the dialogue and actions of the characters.

Even though some of the stories are smoother to read than others, and more impactful, the thread(s) keeps them together.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
I loved this book. It was a bit difficult to read at first for someone that usually does not read fiction (I mostly read non-fiction, self-help books in the past), especially... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Joonha Shin
2.0 out of 5 stars A confusing Read
Too many back and forth situations made my head spin. I would watch the move to get a sense of how quickly things change before reading it.
Published 8 months ago by Marlena Stocker
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a mental work out
Fantastic stories and characters. Unforgettable in fact. However getting through this novel wasn't easy, and at times a struggle. Mitchel is a great writer but almost too much so. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ryan G
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you need to know about Cloud Atlas
Here is everything you need to know about Cloud Atlas in order to avoid being completely bewildered by it:

1. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Elizondo
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beguiling Mixture of Historical Fiction, Mainstream Literary Fiction...
No wonder why "Cloud Atlas" has been hailed by many as a contemporary literary classic. It is a beguiling mixture of historical fiction, mainstream literary fiction and science... Read more
Published 10 months ago by John Kwok
2.0 out of 5 stars A good concept does not always lead to a well done story....
It takes two abilities to compose a good novel. One is the development of the overall concept itself. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Ronald W. Maron
2.0 out of 5 stars Inception in book form
The idea of reading David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" first came to me after seeing the movie trailer back in October. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Ladybug
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 and 1/2 stars, which I may amend up
One cannot deny David Mitchell's literary dexterity, and he does not perform these acrobatics simply to show off. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Leanne C Dawkins
4.0 out of 5 stars The book is good.
Downloaded it into my Kindle fire but was disappointed that it would not download into my Le Pan android tablet. .
Published 14 months ago by Anthony Sakalauskas
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing novel
The book came in great shape, and the story/stories are amazing. The best novel I have read in a long time. Each story is absorbing. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Megan
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