Saturday, 17 October 2009

Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell


Holy frick, I finally finished it.

I bought this book about two years ago. Started reading it, got confused, put it down, picked it up several months later, got confused, kept reading, started loving it... but it's rather dense and has taken me many, many months to finish. I am rather a slow reader, though.

WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS

I'm not going to give anything major away in this review, but I am going to talk about the gist of the plot and the structure quite a bit.

Cloud Atlas is a literary masterpiece. It is hugely creative in terms of both plot, style and structure. It is always great to read a piece of creative fiction that has tried to do something different in terms of not just content, but style and structure too.

The book is comprised of six different narratives that span across time, from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, and then begin to collapse back in on themselves so that the first and last narratives form a story, the second and the second-from-last form a story... etc.

These stories all link in strange ways, and are unified through little phrases or items or philosophies that crop up in each. The ending left me a tiny bit unsatisfied as I expected a more profound link to be made apparent, but on reflection, it did actually produce a satisfactory conclusion. In response to the last line (which I will not type): indeed, what is Time but a multitude of narratives? Something like that, anyway.

Each different narrative is written in a completely different style. Hats off to Mr. Mitchell for being such a diverse writer. Unfortunately for me, I found the first/last narrative, set in the 19th century South Pacific, to be the most boring, and I found it hard to get into the language. I find it strange that I could find the post-apocalyptic language easier to follow. Let me give you an example of this:

O, eery'n'so beautsome'n'blue she was, my soul was achin'. Suddenwise the ghost-girl vanished back into that egg an' a man took her place. A ghost-Prescient he was, this'un COULD see me an' fiercesome he speaked at me.

However, by the end of the book I had eventually become immersed in the first/last narrative, and was glad about it as I didn't want the book to end on a low point for me.

The sudden changes in narratives did slow the pace a little. I often find it hard to 'get into' a book, so when I'm just becoming familiar with a story and it suddenly stops and throws me into another, I find it slightly difficult to adjust. However, Mitchell always creates hooks, and always leaves cliffhangers, so you do want to read on. And the reader is greatly rewarded for doing so.

While reading this book, I really felt as though I was exploring the world through limitless time, exploring an 'atlas of clouds'.

Buy your copy here:
Cloud Atlas

3 comments:

  1. I started reading this ages ago and gave up early, during the South Pacific part. I just couldn't get into it. It's still sitting in my loft, but I've since heard other reviews, and now this one, talking about its interesting structure and split narratives. I'm intrigued, however, I still feel inclined to trust my initial judgement; if the book failed to grab my attention on its own, and it takes reviews to get me to read it, perhaps I should just leave it in the loft.

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  2. That's exactly the reason I put it down and picked it up again!

    It is worth it. Perhaps you should try reading one of the other narratives first? It won't make any difference to your overall understanding of the book/plot by doing so, and it might convince you to go back and read the first part.

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  3. A reluctance to read more challenging books is one of my weaknesses. Perhaps I should give it a go at that.

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