on December 1, 2011
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.
on May 25, 2006
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.
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. Mitchell is definitely very skillful writer, and for the most part pulls off very convincingly various narrative viewpoints, styles, and dialects. This works very well as an exercise in writing skills, but as a novel meant to be read by a wide audience I find this approach verging on overbearing and pretentious. A turn of phrase or an idiosyncratic narrative voice would be forgivable in Melville, but not so much with a contemporary writer pretending to be Melville. It was also very hard to follow some of these stories because of their linguistic peculiarities, particularly the one written in Hawaiian pidgin.
I was also unimpressed with the moralizing and dystopian aspects of this book. Many of the themes were explored with much more conviction and credibility in works that were ostensibly far less ambitious in their scope. (“Never Let Me Go” comes to mind for instance, as well as a handful of sci-fi movies.)
This is certainly a very ambitious and technically sophisticated book, but it overreaches and fails to deliver on the level of pure plot development. It took me really long time to actually go through this book, much longer than for any other literary science fiction book I have read in a long time. Parts of it are interesting and thought-provoking, but as a whole it left me very much underwhelmed.
on September 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.
on 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!
on December 9, 2010
I'm a fan of David Mitchell, and I've read almost all his work (Number9 Dream sits waiting, the last book). Cloud Atlas is arguably his best work, combining a structural cleverness reminiscent of Calvino ("If on a Winter's Night a Traveller") or Delany ("Dhalgren") with a complex insightful story telling that reminds me of Joyce's Ulysses or The Raj Quartet. The stories that comprise Cloud Atlas are bifurcated, so we read them in the order A1,B1,C1,D1,E1,F1,F2,E2,D2, C2,B2,A2. There and back again. They are chronologically arranged, so we start in the 1800s, move stepwise forward into the future (E and F are SF) and back to the past. Each storyteller is aware of the story that has preceded him or her (through manuscripts, videos, etc) so the stories resonate and inform one another. And each story is told in a radically different style, as the writing in successive stories echo (vaguely) Melville/Defoe, Waugh, Le Carré, Amis, Huxley, and Hoban (Riddley Walker).
This all makes it sound like work to read. It's not. Each story pits a protagonist fighting for his or her life against forces that only gradually come into focus. The results of those fights are different, but gradually a pattern emerges, about what it means to be human. Similarly to many others I started reading faster as I read, eager to find out what happened in each story, then slowed down, wanting to savour the exquisite pleasure of the book. And at the end, the only place to go was back to the beginning, to pick up more of the clues and insights buried in the work.
on November 22, 2006
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.
on July 31, 2006
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.
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 fiction. David Mitchell writes like as if he is three authors, channeling the likes of Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian, Aldous Huxley, Ursula Le Guin, Iain M. Banks and Neal Stephenson. This is a novel comprised of riddles, a "series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book", to cite Michael Chabon, that is breathtaking in its scope by encompassing past, present and future, and one replete with mesmerizing, often visionary, descriptive prose that will stir the hearts and minds of those reading it. Mitchell takes us on a voyage to the South Pacific in the 1850s, describing both the hidden terrors and beauty of many of the islands, from the Chatham Islands near New Zealand to the remote isles of Hawaii. Jumping ahead decades, Mitchell introduces us to two young British men; one, a struggling composer and musician, while the other, an engineer, in early thirties Great Britain, in a style that could be reminiscent of the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf; one of them will be featured prominently decades later in a tale set primarily in mid 1970s United States, in a nourish thriller tale that evokes John Le Carre and Elmore Leonard in its usage of language. Centuries later, Mitchell offers a dystopian vision of the future that owes much to Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", with philosophical discussions of faith and the civil rights of "fabricated" humans that are as intense as anything written by Iain M. Banks or Neal Stephenson. It is a future set after "The Fall" in which Hawaii has reverted into savagery while Korea has emerged as the intellectual and technological center of the world. Much to his credit, Mitchell has written a genuine literary "juggling act" of a novel demonstrating not only his understanding of these disparate literary genres, but, equally important, his ample ease in jumping from one genre to the next, which few writers have ever dare to accomplish let alone succeed. Believe all the hype you may have heard about "Cloud Atlas"; unquestionably it remains one of the most important, most influential, novels published so far in this century.
on January 15, 2013
I have really enjoyed reading Cloud Atlas. I am a fan of well-written science-fiction, and was looking forward to read this. The book has greatly exceeded my expectations. The language is superb: the author manages to meticulously match his narration voice to the eras and backgrounds of people about whom he is writing.
The content is breath-taking. Each sub-story offers strong observations and propositions regarding the human nature. Additionally, the narration includes quite a bit of poetry.
The only "drawback" of Cloud Atlas is that some of the stories are very difficult to read (E.g. Zachry's story) because their language matches the imagined character so perfectly that it is no longer in touch with modern vernacular :) However, this only adds an additional element of realism and fun, in my opinion.
I highly recommend this book to anyone!