Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fiction Review: Cloud Atlas

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.

Cloud Atlas

Mitchell, David (2004). [Genre: Literary Fiction]

I actually enjoyed Cloud Atlas more than I thought I would. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would be one of those books that everyone loves but me. But nearly three years ago I was recommended it by someone whose opinion, on books at least, I completely trust, so I knew I'd get around to it eventually.

Cloud Atlas is an epic of time and space. Starting in 1850 and ending somewhere around 2321, we are actually given six stories, expertly woven together to create a single whole that shows how all is connected.

It was good. There's no denying that. Mitchell has a way with words that's quite something to behold. There are few authors in my experience that can throw around the English language like he can with such success. The interweaving stories in Cloud Atlas are the perfect opportunity to show off the talent too, as we jump through various presentations, writing styles and physical time. I particularly enjoyed the taut thriller style of Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery and the subtle (and realistic) development of language that Mitchell throws in for the two futuristic sections.

The way Mitchell tells the tale was also one of my favourite elements of the novel. He gives us half a story before delving further into the timeline, until the sixth is given in its entirety and then we start moving back through the list. It felt like being sucked down into a vortex and then spat back out again, but in the best possible way.

Those two factors alone are enough to make me feel like I should LOVE this book to the moon and back. But despite it being probably one of the best novels technically that I've read in a long time, I don't LOVE it. I like it. A whole lot. I think the difference for me came down to the characterisation. Although all of the characters are solid, I didn't find myself particularly empathising with any of them. I felt sort of like I was watching them, instead of being drawn into their lives like I usually am with a good book. I'm not sure whether that's a by-product of the vortex, or just . . . because. I think I could have read a whole book of similar length about Somni-451, but I think that's because of the absolutely fascinating world building rather than the character. For the most part anyway.

Overall, 4/5 stars. Keeping in mind that over half of me wants to give it 5.

Cloud Atlas is book 10/12 for my 2013 TBR challenge and 3/50 for my Classics Club challenge


  1. […] Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell Finished 06/07/13. Reviewed here […]

  2. I'm thinking about reading this book this fall and appreciated your review.

    >Mitchell has a way with words that’s quite something to behold.

    I do love good writing, and the premise sounds so clever and the structure really interesting.

    I'll be interested to see how I feel about the characters, and whether the writing will be enough for me.

    Great review, btw. Sounds like a tough book to review.