Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2004. ISBN 978067697494-2
Oh, my word! I thought I would never finish this book. I really enjoyed Mitchell's book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. There are turns of phrase in that book that I would give my left hand to have written. That's why I was sure I would heap the same amounts of praise on Cloud Atlas. As with Thousand Autumns, Mitchell deftly delivers masterful turns of phrase, such as - "a half-read book is a half-finished love affair", "implausible truth can serve one better than plausible fiction". In Cloud Atlas, these two phrases are insider clues to the reader. The book contains 6 narratives, 5 of which are started only to be interrupted in mid-stride, creating a cliffhanger for the reader. The central kernel of the story are the ruminations of a questionable storyteller living in a post-apocalyptic, primitive state. It is in this story that the idea of CLOUD ATLAS becomes a unifying theme that expresses the commonalities of human existence over aeons. After the central narrative, each of the stories picks up where it left off. What's particularly tricky is trying to remember the details of a story/passage read in the past. The stories almost demand that you go back through and read each as a whole, which is the way Mitchell first wrote them. My favourite voice was Robert Frobisher, an English musician living in Belgium in the 1930s. The wry wit and self-depricating humor of Frobisher's narrative was comical but rang true. I connected with this character more than any other. This book definitely has great literary merit (finalist for the Man Booker), as its awards and movie deal would indicate. However, I'm giving it a 3 because I had to flip back and forth too many times, it gets preachy in some places-too esoteric. And I felt like some of the dialogue was unnecessary. I'm glad I read it. I feel like anyone who gets through it has earned some literary chops; however, I'm also glad I've finished reading it.
Insider tip: if you are a fan of fictional expositions of Neitzsche, you won't be disappointed in this book. All six narratives deal with the will to power in their own unique ways. Likewise, if you are particularly adept at matching musical themes and motifs to plot and subplot, you will find quite a few elements of the stories appealing. I'm not really good at either of the above, but I did catch what Mitchell had going on. Like I said, just getting through this book gives a reader her chops.
Awards and further information:
Short-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize
The Guardian Book Club, 2010: read a wonderful series of interviews and insights into the novel from The Guardian. Start here.
Other novels by David Mitchell:
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