I’m so bad about posting (and linking to) my reviews. Links below to reviews 27 through 36.
Goodreads says: “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.”
There was a lot to unfold in this book, with its successive stories each moving forward in time, interrupting each other, addressing each other, and then concluding sequentially. Having read it, I think I can especially understand the more at-odds than usual mixed reviews of the movie, since adapting this for film seems an unusually tasking endeavor.
Mitchell has accomplished an impressive technical feat here, which is to leap between stylistic genres believably. Some (possibly those with a higher literary IQ than I) have also alleged that the “stacked” nature of this book is itself an accomplishment; for me it seemed a little gimmicky. A vague thread of existentialism ran through each of the stories, which were more explicitly tied together with notes like the narrator of one story reading the journal of the prior narrator’s story, or multiple narrators mentioning having the same birthmark (this seemingly random connection was lampshaded later when one narrator, an editor, scoffed at the random inclusion of two other nested characters having the same birthmark.) Each of these stories also borrow heavily from other works of art (literature, film, music/music history), as acknowledged by Mitchell himself, so in a way, as the stories string themselves together, they are also tied to our living reality. It is very clever, all of these tenuous threads, but at the end of the day your enjoyment of the book as a whole probably rests mostly on how you respond to each of the different stories. I read someone else’s review recently (I’m sorry to say I don’t remember whose!) that addressed the idea that sometimes appreciating what the author has done is different from enjoying it, and that’s basically what I experienced here.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy any of Cloud Atlas. I just didn’t enjoy all of it. My personal favorite stories included “An Orison of Sonmi~451”, which was the sci-fi Blade Runner-esque account of a replicant type who became sentient. It’s presented as an interview with her as she waits on what is essentially death row. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek with its inclusion of many of our favorite sci-fi tropes in such a short story, and as a fan of the genre I appreciated the wink and nod. I also liked the story that comprised of letters from 1930’s composer Robert Frobisher to one Rufus Sixsmith, and the delightfully cheesy noir mystery of Luisa Rey. Conversely, I didn’t like “Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After” (I think I could the apostrophes correct!) much at all — the forced pidgin was an absolute chore to read and I gave up on it entirely, other than to scan through and find the connection, which was that Sonmi~451’s story had survived and elevated her to God-like status among some.
It’s hard to say if this book will, ultimately, ascend to the status of literary classic, or be defamed as hacky and pompous after some time. In the present though, it’s worth reading.
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.
Cloud Atlas is not a bad book, it’s just a “not for me” kind of book. I thought it was for me, I had heard great things from pretty much everyone who ever read it, including past CBR reviewers. The book was even lent to me by a friend who recommended it. I saw the trailer for the movie, and that looked undeniably cool. So here I am, having read the book, and all I can think is, “that was okay…?” I almost feel like the fault is with me, that I just didn’t read the book right or that I need to have someone explain it to me, and I’ll have a revelation where I suddenly think it’s great. However, right now is not that moment, and I’m reviewing the book based upon my current impression.
The plot of Cloud Atlas is not easily summarized so I’ll let Mitchell himself give a brief description so I can get it out of the way:
I do admire the format of the book. Mitchell plays with his storytelling style in a way I have never seen done before. It’s a unique way of delving into the idea that humanity is all connected, that the choices we make now will have ripples far into the future. Each of the stories are well written. In some cases, Mitchell has created completely new dialects or new realities, and he does so with skill. He philosophizes on everything from racism to sexism, good vs. evil, class and status. So why didn’t I like this book…
I’ve finally gotten around to reading what seemed to be everyone’s favorite Cannonball Read from a couple years ago: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004). I guess I could call it a cross between six short stories and a comprehensive philosophy of the nature of humanity. I wish I had come into this book with fewer expectations, though, because even though I was impressed and enjoyed it, the hype was probably too much to ever live up to.
To read the the entirety of my meandering and spoilerific review of Cloud Atlas, click here.
Having read Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green came as quite a surprise. It’s just one story, told in a straightforward fashion, and it’s subject matter is familiar and relatable. Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor has an eventful 1982 as he tries to overcome his stammer, capture his feelings in poems, make sense out of the war in the Falklands, and make it through the bullying at school.
While it might seem like this would be a disappointment coming off the inventive Cloud Atlas, in actuality Black Swan Green is a delightful read. Mitchell expertly catalogs the anxieties of an unpopular boy on the verge of adolescence. The specific details of the time period and the setting are also appreciated .
It seems like David Mitchell is just as comfortable in the real world as he is spinning out a futuristic fantasy-world.