Tuesday, January 22, 2013

REVIEW: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Published 2004 by Random House. Literary Fiction.

Cloud Atlas is a weird and intriguing book. Encompassing large ranges of time and space, and arranged in a matryoshka-doll format, it's composed of a series of short stories that nestle inside each other, connected in ways subtle and overt. The stories also represent different literary styles, and show evolution in the human condition as well as in language and expression.

The first story, "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing," which begins and ends the book, is a historical fiction about a man and his adventures in New Zealand of the early colonial period (I think). The next is an epistolary tale set in the early 20th century, then a crime story, then a first-person contemporary narrative, then a futuristic dystopia, then a far-future post-apocalypse. The stories go 1-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-3-2-1 and each first part ends on a cliffhanger that the second part picks up immediately where the first part leaves off.

And how are they connected? That's for you to find out when you read it. I picked it up because it's been selling like crazy at the bookstore, and I wanted to be able to talk to my customers about it and recommend what to read next when they come back. I can do that now, and I'm glad that I read it. And I really enjoyed it. It's heavier lifting in literary terms than I'd been doing for a while, and it felt good to read a hard book again- a change from the fluffy crime fiction and homeworky new releases I read too much of. The stories are delightful, and a couple are quite wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the dystopic "Orison of Somni-451," about the rebellion of a sentient robot, and "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish," a flat-out hilarious adventure of what happens to an elderly and particularly myopic publisher when he runs afoul of some thugs.

I'd recommend Cloud Atlas to readers not afraid of doing that heavy lifting but I'll say I found the book a lot more accessible than I thought it would be. If you're wondering if you should read it, I say give it a shot. Stretch yourself if it's not normally your thing, and just try it. You might even like it. "'Catch you all next time.'" Luisa is going. "'It's a small world. It keeps recrossing itself.'" Just like the book.

Shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize, this book also counts towards The Complete Booker Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I bought this one some time ago and ended up giving it away unread, as I just didn't think I would enjoy it. I may catch the movie version though.

I was glad to see you recommend buying this one.

bermudaonion said...

I have a feeling I'm not smart enough to catch the nuances of this book.

JaneGS said...

I've heard of this book, but until your review knew absolutely nothing about it. I think I would like it--I tend to like short stories/novellas and the premise of the whole is intriguing.

Glad to hear it's more accessible than it sounds as it does sound a bit challenging!

Melissa Ward said...

I bought this several years ago and never got around to it. I saw the movie when it opened here and LOVED IT. Amazing.

So now I'm reading my way through the book. Strange, but Frobisher isn't one of my favorite characters in the book, he's much more tragic in the movie. Still love the Son-mi sections, beautiful.

Have you seen the movie?

Andi said...

I'm glad you're glad you read it! I have it sitting on my immediate TBR and am looking forward to it!

Zibilee said...

I started this one last year, but my concentration was shot, and did not make it past the first section, BUT I have it on my shelf still, waiting for the right time to dive in. I know that once I get my reading mojo back it's going to be an incredible read for me. Very inspiring review today, Marie. I am now looking forward to it again!

Jenners said...

OK … this post was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed to attempt this book. I was scared of it but I wanted to try it too. I think I'll flag your review to come back for encouragement if I need it. Sometimes we do need to stretch ourselves as readers. I know I get lazy sometimes!

Care said...

I recommend it, too! Find a friend and look at all the blog reviews to explain it - I've read some excellent guides online. But I am SO glad to have read it and am so waiting for the movie to come to home-access.

Athira said...

I just bought this one last month after seeing the movie trailer, so I can't wait to start reading it. Glad that you recommend it strongly!

Ryan said...

Cloud Atlas is one of those books that you never, ever forget. Years later, I still remember this book vividly and have been considering a reread for quite some time. and I completely agree, the best stories in the novel are Timothy Cavendish's and Somni-451's (a neat little homage to Ray Bradbury).

For anyone intimidated by its girth, don't be. The first chapter can be a bit of a slog because you don't know what's happening, but once you hit stride, you won't put it down.

Cloud Atlas is everything that literature is supposed to be.