I feel a bit embarrassed that I am so hopelessly tardy in my arrival at the Cloud Atlas party. I bought the book years ago, but my loathing for smart-arse writerly ‘technique’ getting in the way of a good story put me off. When this year the book was made into a film starring Tom Hanks (who I hate more than the aforementioned self-indulgence/arrogance of some authors), I decided I could ignore it no longer. As a rule, I don’t like being proved wrong, but in this case I’m happy to eat my judgemental hat. Good god I LOVED this book.
The novel tells six separate, but interlinked, stories. The first deals with a 19th century American lawyer and his adventures on the high seas of the Pacific; the second is narrated by a talented, petulant composer in 1930s Belgium who seduces his mentor’s wife and falls in love with his daughter; the third is a Silkwood-esque 1970s morality tale of corrupt big business; fourth is the hilarious story of Timothy Cavendish, a publisher in 1980s London who gets trapped in an old people’s home; next is the tragic story of Somni-451 a clone in a dystopian future who is due to be executed for evolving feelings and a will of her own; finally comes the story of Zachary, a tribesman in a world centuries after the fall of civilisation. I know, I know, I thought all this sounded affected and ridiculous too, but it’s not. It’s NOT!
David Mitchell is such a genius that he effortlessly weaves these stories together, ending each on a cliff-hanger that in no way stops you from getting immediately gripped by the next one. He is as comfortable with the historical novel of the opening or the Amis-like world of Timothy Cavendish as he is with the sci-fi of the later stories, and each narrative voice rings completely true.
I hardly know what else to say. I loved it so much I can’t do it justice. It made me laugh, made me cry, made me anxious, and even got me over my Irvine Welsh (the Crown Prince of self-indulgent arrogant writers) induced phobia of dialect outside of dialogue. I was desperate to find out what happened to each of the characters, but at the same time didn’t want the book to end. If you’re reading this review, stop pissing around on the internet and read Cloud Atlas instead.