Cloud Atlas: A Novel

David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. . . . Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. . . . From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. . . . And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.But the story doesn’t end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.As wild as a videogame, as mysterious as a Zen koan, Cloud Atlas is an unforgettable tour de force that, like its incomparable author, has transcended its cult classic status to become a worldwide phenomenon.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2017-08-29
Book Description By the New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks | Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize A postmodern visionary and one of the leading voices in twenty-first-century fiction, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending, philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction as profound as it is playful. In this groundbreaking novel, an influential favorite among a new generation of writers, Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity. Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. . . . Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. . . . From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. . . . And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history. But the story doesn't end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky. As wild as a videogame, as mysterious as a Zen koan, Cloud Atlas is an unforgettable tour de force that, like its incomparable author, has transcended its cult classic status to become a worldwide phenomenon. Praise for Cloud Atlas "[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel's every page."--The New York Times Book Review "One of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is--and should be--read by any student of contemporary literature."--Dave Eggers "Wildly entertaining . . . a head rush, both action-packed and chillingly ruminative."--People "The novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet--not just dazzling, amusing, or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I've never read anything quite like it, and I'm grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds."--Michael Chabon "Cloud Atlas ought to make [Mitchell] famous on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer whose fearlessness is matched by his talent."--The Washington Post Book World "Thrilling . . . One of the biggest joys in Cloud Atlas is watching Mitchell sashay from genre to genre without a hitch in his dance step."--Boston Sunday Globe "Grand and elaborate . . . [Mitchell] creates a world and language at once foreign and strange, yet strikingly familiar and intimate."--Los Angeles Times From the Hardcover edition. Editorial Reviews
Reviewed: 2016-01-30

Never before have I been this conflicted or uncertain about my feelings about a work of fiction. In attempting to come to some sort of conclusion, I started reading all the reviews I could find, only to be surprised by another experience: I agreed with pretty much all that was written - the book is a brilliantly structured exploration about the nature of time/the book is contrived, gimmicky clap-trap; Mitchell is a masterful storyteller/Mitchell is a novice writer trying "too hard" to appear "literary"/Mitchell is blatantly showing off his ability to write in various styles but fails in creating a holistic narrative/Mitchell is an apt observer masterfully conveying different characters' voices...

In the end, this is what I came to--

I will concede that:
(1) The idea behind the structuring of Cloud Atlas is, indeed, ingenious (a Matryoshka doll of seven nested stories, with the outer shell being a point in the past, the inner shell a point in the future).

(2) Mitchell is a masterful writer - he pulls off an incredibly varied array of voices, convincingly so.

BUT
(3) From the very beginning, I couldn't help but notice how hard Mitchell seemed to be trying to write a unique story, and how obvious his effort was. If you're Bolano or Pynchon or Eco - yes, you can write a sprawling book that can be about nothing at all and still be more profound than thousands of other works put together. But Mitchell emphatically does NOT have that kind of brilliance, or skill - he's no next-generation Roberto or Umberto. 

One dead give-away of this is Mitchell's compulsion to explain what he is doing to his reader. Throughout, there's brief glimpses into Mitchell's own vision for his novel, which may make Cloud Atlas a bit more popular with the public, I suppose, but the point is, true visionaries don't explain the way their minds work: they show (and they're usually little concerned with public opinion, or at least, even if they are, they don't write for the mass audience, but out of a deep-seated compulsion/need of their own). 

Another give-away is Mitchell's need to explain away his gimmicks as such - he pokes fun at the Matryoshka doll structure, at the ways in which the stories weave with each other. But he does not do so in a satirical, witty, or poetic way; it's almost as if he's asking for the readers' approval, gaining her/his esteem by conspiring that what he is doing is cliched, but by choice. Well, if Mitchell was so sure this choice was the right one, imho, he wouldn't feel it necessary to seek said approval nor to explain his literary decisions.

(4) The characters are well developed and the plot is fine, but I still lost interest after the second part of Somni's story wrapped up (when the novel begins unfolding backwards in time from the center-future). I think this has less to do with the plot and more with my complaint above, seeing as I've read plenty of relatively plot-less books that I've enjoyed much more than this due to the writers' skill.


Conclusion: Mitchell certainly has mastered language, and he is a skilled story-teller, but his imagination and creativity do not lend to his writing compelling sprawling epics.

About 40% into this book, I would have given it 5 starts. I loved the unusual structure - the different voices of each story - the cliff hanger endings. But then I got to the sixth story, which I absolutely hated. The dialect was tortuous, the story boring, the philosophy too much like a beginning undergraduate philosophy class. My sentiments towards this central story made it difficult to finish the rest of the stories, which were okay. Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this book.
Almost 5 stars but I spent a little time aggravated by the structure in the first third or so of the book. A little patience to get through that is rewarded, however.
Item Posts
@jspangler
@jspangler began #cloudatlasanovel... on 2018-11-18 00:00:00
@rebajw
@rebajw completed #cloudatlasanovel... on 2018-01-28
@rebajw
@rebajw began #cloudatlasanovel... on 2017-12-31
@uberbutter
@uberbutter completed #cloudatlasanovel... on 2012-09-30
@uberbutter
@uberbutter began #cloudatlasanovel... on 2012-09-17
@eileenablondi
@eileenablondi completed #cloudatlasanovel... on 2013-12-19
@eileenablondi
@eileenablondi began #cloudatlasanovel... on 2013-12-16