21st Century,  General Fiction

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I started reading Cloud Atlas back in August along with Leah from Books Speak Volumes. We both wanted to read it and decided that we could make the most of the book by discussing a section a week. So, during the last eleven weeks, we have exchanged our views and have benefited from each other’s opinions. Not only that, but we have also forged an amazing bookish relationship.

From Book Depository:

By the author of THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET, David Mitchell’s bestselling and Booker Prize-shortlisted novel was one of Richard & Judy’s 100 Books of the Decade and has now been made into a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant 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 Reagans 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 others echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small. In his extraordinary third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

I had first heard of Cloud Atlas on the Internet, reading things like “this is more complex than Cloud Atlas” and I did not understand why. After reading it, I can tell you people were right. Cloud Atlas is a complex book, one of those that makes your brain work really hard to make all the connections so that you can slightly understand the story.

Cloud Atlas is divided into eleven sections, dealing with six different characters set in very different times and places in the past, the present and the future. The book has a matryoshka style meaning that every section is related to the following one in a narrative level: basically, each section contains the previous one. And so on, and so forth: it is up to the reader to make the necessary connections. Like Leah herself said: “SO META.” This makes the book really complex but also very interesting from a narrative point of view. You can see Mitchell worked hard at tying it up all together at a narrative level, but at the same time, at a thematic level: from the first section, set in the 18th century, to the ones set in the future, slavery, the subjection of the other and how it helps to construct our own identity string together the six different scenarios.

Now comes the difficult part. Do I think Cloud Atlas is a great novel in terms of technique, narration devices and themes? Yes. Did I enjoy it? No, I didn’t. To put it simply, this book is not something I would read had it not been turned into a movie I’m definitely watching with Mr. Books&Reviews. I am not the biggest sci-fi fan, so that explains it all. But do not get me wrong. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in present-day fiction or sci-fi. It is incredibly well-written, the characters are complex and although it makes you work hard, it pays off. This is what literature is about: thinking.

I would like to finish this review by saying there were some parts I enjoyed, specially some quotes like the following:

Books don’t offer real escape, but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw.



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