Monday, January 21, 2013

Marie C. Reviews Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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

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.

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