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Cloud Atlas [Paperback]

David Mitchell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 17 2004
By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks | Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

A postmodern visionary and one of the leading voices in twenty-first-century fiction, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending, philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction as profound as it is playful. In this groundbreaking novel, an influential favorite among a new generation of writers, Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity.

Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. . . . Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. . . . From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. . . . And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

But the story doesn’t end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

As wild as a videogame, as mysterious as a Zen koan, Cloud Atlas is an unforgettable tour de force that, like its incomparable author, has transcended its cult classic status to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Praise for Cloud Atlas
“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”The New York Times Book Review
“One of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is—and should be—read by any student of contemporary literature.”—Dave Eggers
“Wildly entertaining . . . a head rush, both action-packed and chillingly ruminative.”People
“The novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet—not just dazzling, amusing, or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I’m grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds.”—Michael Chabon
Cloud Atlas ought to make [Mitchell] famous on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer whose fearlessness is matched by his talent.”The Washington Post Book World
“Thrilling . . . One of the biggest joys in Cloud Atlas is watching Mitchell sashay from genre to genre without a hitch in his dance step.”Boston Sunday Globe
“Grand and elaborate . . . [Mitchell] creates a world and language at once foreign and strange, yet strikingly familiar and intimate.”Los Angeles Times

From the Hardcover edition.

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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

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
13 of 13 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
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
4.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book... Sept. 5 2004
but should I say "these" books?

Built as multiple narratives one into another, each section is quite enjoyable on its own. Although the links between each part sometimes feel a bit stretched and the flow of reading halted by the insertion of yet another narrative (hence my rating of 4 stars vs 5), the total does become more than the parts and makes for excellent reading. Highly recommended.
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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
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 Everything you need to know about Cloud Atlas July 11 2013
Here is everything you need to know about Cloud Atlas in order to avoid being completely bewildered by it:

1. Cloud Atlas is written as a series of short stories, each set in a different time period and location. Each is written in a completely different style. All except for the sixth one are cut off mid-way through and then completed in reverse order.

2. The six stories progress through the ages of civilization from tribal to modern day to a future society that is technologically advanced but completely dystopian to a post-apocalyptic world (which is essentially back to the tribal beginning).

3. Each of the six stories appear in some form in the succeeding story, as letters, novels, films, music, etc.

4. The protagonist in each story is conveniently identified with a comet shaped mole on their shoulder. SPOILER ALERT- They are in fact all reincarnations of each other.

5.The theme of this book is Exploitation of Man by Mankind and does Civilization really make one civilized?

I loved this book! I loved the different characters and the different writing styles that the author used in each of the six stories. Each character and the situation they find themselves in are very different, but each is amazingly well done.

I loved each of the individual stories! They were excellent on their own, but woven into a novel they come together to illustrate Mitchell's theme. Which is man's basic drive to exploit those around him, through every age and every civilization, over and over again.

This is an extremely creative and orginal book and I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging yet very rewarding
This book is ,in reality, six short stories that are intertwined in devious and interesting ways. The story lines start and stop only to be picked up later in the book. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bootsy Bass
4.0 out of 5 stars book vs movie
i actually liked the movie more in some ways. i liked how the movie jumped around more than the book did, but the details/extended story lines in the book were better.
Published 4 months ago by Philip mclellan
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get into it. I found that at thirty ...
Couldn't get into it. I found that at thirty percent into the book, I was still looking for something to relate to. Who knows, I may try again sometime, but not soon.
Published 4 months ago by Cheryl Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars A visionary masterwork omnibus whose narrative threads and characters...
Just read it!!!
Published 4 months ago by spiderfriend
3.0 out of 5 stars Cloud Atlas
Hard to keep up with all the nuances of this book. Very hard to read and certainly not something that you can relax with.
Published 6 months ago by Lucy Kukac
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly drawn
This is a complex, ambitious novel which is written with a master's hand. David Mitchell succeeds in creating a series of seemingly unrelated stories and weaving them together into... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lorina Stephens
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put this down
The beginning is slightly confusing, but keep going and you won't be able to put this book down! Don't watch the movie first, though.
Published 7 months ago by Red Pond Celi
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 9 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 15 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 16 months ago by Ryan G
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