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A Rare Book Review: Cloud Atlas

Tonight, I finished reading the novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (no, not that David Mitchell), which I started a couple of weeks into the new year and have been picking through ever since. In my defence, it is quite long.

I didn’t think many blogs would want my personal opinions about a years-old book, but after completing this Herculean reading task, I felt compelled to type something about it. Cloud Atlas is most memorable for two reasons, I think. Firstly, the sheer scale and ambition of it.

Mitchell crafts a complex saga, comprising of six separate narratives, nestled within each other in Russian doll style. Starting in the nineteenth century, it works its way forward to the far flung future, then works its way back out again. Amongst these strands, ideas about humanity and reincarnation lurk, along with the six distinct storylines themselves. It’s truly an impressive feat.

Hand-in-hand with that is the actual writing. Writing all these different characters, in different time periods with different writing styles and vocabularies is no small accomplishment. He skates genres from detective novel to escape to sci-fi. But Mitchell pulls it off and, worst of all, makes it look easy. He’s clearly a very, very good writer. The bastard.

Seriously, the worst part is the way each of the plots has their own supporting cast and, you get the feeling, could easily sustain a novel of their own. It’s a great book, and although it took me ages to read, I’m compensated by now feeling like I’ve read six different books. I thoroughly recommend it, if you hadn’t guessed.

If I had to complain (and I really do), the scale of the feat being accomplished kinda made me expect something more transcendentally amazing to happen. He’s crafted six engrossing storylines, but they never exactly come together to form a single amazing hypernarrative in the way I was hoping they might. It remains six separate arcs with call-backs going between them.

But that’ll teach me to take back cover blurbs too seriously, really. It remains an amazing work of book-writing, and definitely worth a try.


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