This book is amazing--one of my all-time favorites and I strongly recommend it. Most of the interconnecting stories are split in half so that the whole of the narrative moves forward and then backward in time. My only caveat is that you do need to have plenty of reading time available before you start, as this is not a good book to put down for long stretches.
This book is divided by character; five specific characters spread over a time line of past eras, the present era, and future eras. The stories move forward from past to future and then reverse to revisit the same characters in opposite order. This book is a project. I read it, and read it, and kept reading it. Finally, I finished, and I was happy I finished all the way through - More though for the accomplishment of it rather than the story itself. I would have hated to have invested so many hours only to put it down half way through. I was only tempted to stop though due to the daunting length, and slow pace; not due to the stories.
There were very profound moments along the way. I especially enjoyed the story lines that are set in the future as they make the reader reflect back on our actions of today and how they will impact the future.
I think this is a book that will loved by some and unloved by some. As for me, I am undecided, borderline indifferent. My best recommendation is to read it for yourself and see. There is something for everyone. Is it worth the while it takes to accomplish this massive project? That is questionable.
Review first published on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2013/10/cloud-atlas.html
I have to admit. I finished reading this book a while ago. I have taken this time to dwell on it, reread passages, think about it some more, and really consider how I describe it. Reading this book, I feel, will be an intensely personal experience. This book will not work for everyone. For me, it did.
From its description, the book is a set of six loosely related stories. Each is set in a different time and place. Each is written in an entirely different style. The first is the journal of a traveler. The second is letters from a young musician. The third is the story of a young reporter and big business. The fourth is the adventure of a publisher institutionalized because of illness. The fifth is the tale of a futuristic world of clones and slavery. The sixth comes full circle to life on a primitive post-apocalyptic island.
The stories are not told in their entirety, instead in halves. They build from the first to the sixth and then weave their way back. The first set of sections stop rather abruptly and at a climatic moment. Only the story of the post-apocalyptic world is told in one go. As such, it forms the crux of the novel.
Based on the description, I was not sure I was going to enjoy the book. As I read the first section, I wasn't sure I would like it. Yet, I kept reading. The writing styles of certain sections appealed to me more so than others. Slowly, though, themes start to emerge in the book - statements of ideology and philosophy - and it coalesces into a whole. The book is one about human nature, power, control, and the past being redefined to suit the needs of the future. These themes repeat throughout the book:
From the traveler's journal: "Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history admits no rules, only outcomes. What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts and virtuous act. What precipitates acts? Belief. Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world."
From the musician's letters: "Wars do not combust without warning. They begin as little fires over the horizon. Wars approach ... Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. What sparks wars? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will ... The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence."
From the reporter's story: "Yet how is it some men attain mastery over others while the vast majority live and die as minions, as livestock? The answer is a holy trinity. First: God-given gifts of charisma. Second: the discipline to nurture these gifts to maturity, for though humanity's topsoil is fertile with talent, only one seed in ten thousand will every flower - for want of discipline ... Third: the will to power. This is the enigma at the core of the various destinies of men. What drives some to accrue power where the majority of the compatriots lose, mishandle, or eschew power? Is it addiction? Wealth? Survival? Natural selection? I propose these are all pretexts and results, not the root cause. The only answer can be 'There is no "Why." This is our nature.' 'Who' and 'What' run deeper than 'Why.'"
From the publisher's tale: "Mother used to say escape is never further than the nearest book. Well, Mumsy, no, not really .... Books don't offer real escape, but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw."
[Okay, I know this has nothing to do with the themes, but I love comments in books about books.]
From the future world: "In a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until only "rights," the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful."
From the post-apocalyptic world: "Human hunger birthed the Civ'lize, but human hunger killed it too."
What I found amazing was how completely David Mitchell is able to change his writing style from section to section. Each section is like reading a completely different book - the voice, the language, the writing style, the descriptions - pretty much everything about the story. I feel that David Mitchell describes his own work within the book. "Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year's fragments into a "sextet for overlapping soloists": piano, clarinet, 'cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second: each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's too late, and by then it'll be too late."
I vote revolutionary. I did not expect to like this book, but I did. I expected to toil through it, and through some sections, I did. The themes and the ideas of this book will stay with me for a long time, and I can see myself periodically rereading.
I enjoyed this book, although it is not a book I would approach like a light novel I would read on the beach. Instead, think of it like reading a novel by Faulkner, as it is a lot of work reading it. (I read this book on a two day bus ride from Mississippi to Winnipeg, Canada.) The chapters are written from different points of view and from different period of time, both in the past and in the future. Some of the chapters were easier to read than others. The different dialect took some time to get used to, but overall the book was quite interesting.
A good fun book, with a clever story-telling mechanism.
Six stories arranged like a sandwich inside a sandwich inside a sandwich ..., where each one finds the "story" of the character before them which ends unexpectedly, then completes in reverse order.
Of the stories themselves - they really had different "feels" to them. Some were more to my liking, and some not so much, but even so it was worth the read to get the whole tapestry.
The plot, well there are 6 plots ranging from "long ago" to "in the far distant future". I'll leave it at that. Any more details would be too much, or too little (or both).
Here is a blasphemous admission: I liked the movie better than the book.
To be fair, I probably did not read as much into the book as I did when watching the movie. But the book simply did not give me the profoundness that the movie did at its conclusion.
As other reviewers have mentioned, each section of the book contains a very distinct style of prose and some of them are far more enjoyable than the others. Yet, all six stories are worth reading until the very end; the best parts come at the second halves, so keep chugging along!
In all honesty, I believe I've gotten a little more insight and appreciation into the book after reading other reviews. Would I have appreciated the book more if I read it first? I doubt it.
In any case, since the book lays the foundation of the movie adaptation, I would encourage all of its movie fans to experience the story as it was intended, in book form. Yet, keep expectations low and you won't be disappointed.
Dang, but this was a delightful book! The structure was unlike anything I had ever read before, and my brain was tickled to figure things out. Part science fiction and part historical fiction, this book hit all my sweet spots. I did NOT see the movie, which I understand was a stinker. My highest recommendation!
I had heard before reading this book that it had complicated, overlapping story lines. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I would like the book, and in fact, almost stopped reading it during the first section (Journal of Adam Ewing). However, as I continued through the sections and stories, I gradually liked it more and more. I especially liked the sections featuring Luisa Rey, Somni the fabricant, and Zachry.
This book is a tough read - mostly because Mitchell makes up language and dialect (I hesitate in comparing him to Tolkien, but that's what comes to mind). I only ploughed through the first half, because I had to complete it for bookclub. And then, miraculously, at around page 250, I started loving the story and became completely engrossed. The architecture of the book is pure genius moving forward and then backward through time. If it weren't for the pain of trying to decipher the first half, I'd give it 5 stars.
I LOVED Cloud Atlas. If I could, I would give it six stars. If I ever write a novel, I would want it to be like this. If I could marry a novel, it would be this one. Considering it was published nearly a decade ago, I kept asking it, "Where have I been all your life?"
Okay, now for why I loved this book so much:
There are six seemingly unrelated stories, all beautifully written in such different styles that it feels like each could have been written by a different author. Yet, they do all connect and fit together like a series of those little Russian nesting dolls. The ways in which they connect, building to a crescendo and then each wrapping up in the second half of the novel, is nothing short of genius.
Possible drawbacks, which weren't really drawbacks for me:
Each of the stories is so different that it took me a little while to get into them, particularly the first two, but once I picked up the rhythm of the narrative, I was fully immersed.
Sometimes Mitchell is a little heavy-handed with the connections between the stories, which some readers might find insulting. I, however, enjoyed the confirmation that I was right. Because I really like being right.
While I appreciate the author's skill as a writer, I find the structure of several interlocking stories hard to follow. I would have enjoyed a straight-forward telling of the stories a lot more. I particularly didn't enjoy the Polynesian portion-the language and jargon made it very hard to read.
Cloud Atlas is a wonderfully written puzzle. I'm not able to write a review, I am only able to recommend it. This is a book that has to be read and savored, explanations don't do it justice, you have to live and see the world as each character sees it to be reminded of the best and the worst man has created.
It was an interesting read in the way David Mitchell laid it out. Unfortunately, it simply did not hold onto my interest all the way through.
Recurring theme: Reincarnation and the concept that people step in and out of your life for a reason.
It might make for a good Philosophy Class discussion: What are morals? What are ethics? Continual debate on Locke's theories and etc.
Last thought: Not huge on originality. For example, when you get to the section on the Sonmi think of the movie "The Island" with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson or "Never Let Me Go" with Kiera Knightley to be more precise. Another example, human progress reaches a pinnacle and practically starts all over again - similar to Oswell's "Time Machine."
Very hard to describe the contents, as it's very original in style.
"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 âdinery serverâ 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."
This was an intriguing book that is put together in a very creative way. There are basically six stories ranging from the 1800's to the future nested within each other. Each story is influenced by the story before it.
This is a very creative idea and I definitely recognize how much work went into writing each story in the language/style of the era that it takes place in.
I did enjoy the book. However, it is definitely not an easy read. The two stories that took place in the far past and the far future were incredibly hard to read given how they were written. I think that was kind of the point, to show how humanity had come full circle in its ignorance and brutality, still it definitely took some time to read and decipher (lots of letters are dropped out and there is a lot of slang).
I really did enjoy a couple of the stories. The First Luisa Rey Mystery was a wonderful mystery with some interesting elements. The Orison of Somni-451 was also a very engaging story about an android who started to grow and develop in a very human way. Then there were others I did not enjoy. It was a bit like reading an anthology where you breeze through the stories you love and struggle through the ones you just cant engage in.
I am not going to go into all of the discussion about reincarnation and all of the other themes this book brings into the story. There are a million other people who have analyzed this book to death. I did really enjoy how each story influenced the story that came after it in some significant way. This book has a lot going on at multiple levels and it is definitely one that makes you think.
There is definitely an adult story. There is a lot of violence and some rape in here, so just be aware of that.
Overall this was a wonderful idea, with some decent stories. It is not an easy read or even an enjoyable one at times. I shudder to think how many kids in college are going to be forced to read this book because of the novelty of the story structure. In the end I am glad I read it, but it isnt something I will ever pick up and read again.
The interwoven and overlapping stories of this wonderful, imaginative book draw the reader into worlds, past, present and future. The common themes of the tales are timeless and thoughtfully developed as the threads circle back on themselves. Not an "easy" read, but oh, so much to savor. Don't pass this one up!
Well worth reading although I'm not quite sure if the structure of this lengthy novel really worked at all levels. The book is like unraveling the layers of an onion. It starts out with the journal of Adam Ewing in the 19th century, moves on to the letters of Robert Frobisher in 1931, etc., and then finally to a post apocalyptic world on Hawaii several centuries in the future. Each of the six connected stories are interrupted half through (except the middle story), and then continued in reverse order until the end of the novel. I'll give Mitchell credit for being very creative in his story-telling and definitely in his use of language for each story using dialects of the past and perceived language of the future; however, the breaking up of each story to me was somewhat disconcerting. I tended to go back to the first parts of each story to refresh my memory on what took place before continuing with the second parts. But, overall, I would recommend this very creative blend of past and future and how Mitchell portrays the shortcomings of mankind and their ultimate effects on mankind's destiny.
I have not yet seen the movie version that came out last year but will be looking forward to it when released on DVD. This is also included in the 1001 books you must read before you die list.
As my good friend Liz joked, when I finished this novel I was like "Cloud atLAST this book is over!!"
I get it, I really do. I get why the reviewers and so many readers are under the spell of this book. It's impressive to experiment with a unique literary form. It's impressive to show off all of the genres and eras whose styles you can write competently. While at times it seems like an idea for a freshman literary seminar exercise, it's unique in a book of popular fiction. Great. I am glad experimentation is alive and well. But does (at times successful) experimentation excuse the litany of other flaws in this novel? I don't think so.
Cloud Atlas suffers from a common ailment of short story collections (which this essentially is, albeit a group of related ones): uneven content. The 'Letters from Zedelghem' section was easily my favorite and held my attention the most (maybe Mitchell should write more in this style instead of trying on so many different ones?). The others, however, fluctuated for me from a more boring Master and Commander to Sloosha's Crossin', which I found almost unreadable (and which seemed to have a questionable view on race which went against the rest of the book). The Sci-Fi chapter, 'Orison of Somni-451' (if it can indeed be classified as such) seemed to me, as a sci-fi fan, to be extremely heavy-handed and derivative of some of the classic works (which, to be fair, if you don't write regularly in the genre seems like it would be a common occurrence). Mitchell addressing criticisms in the novel (specifically the 'Timothy Cavendish' sections) drove me absolutely bonkers; "The Ghost of Sir Felix Finch whines, But its been done a hundred times before! as if there could be anything not done a hundred thousand times between Aristophanes and Andrew Void-Webber! As if Art is the What, not the How! preceded by the misunderstood author killing the critic who gave him a bad review? WE GET IT. There are better ways to address your critics, if you need to address them at all.
In the end, even with everything I mentioned above, I think my real problem with this book is that demonstrating your fluency in a particular style doesn't mean you can get at the heart of the prose. There's no deep feeling or meaningful connection with the stories or characters in most of these sections. While genre writers are often maligned by the more "literary" set of readers and critics, I think it just shows that it's not so easy to be able to just pick up a pen (or a keyboard) and write well in any genre or style. Don't get me wrong, Mitchell has obviously worked at his craft, and there are individual moments of light within the story (Sachs' brief discourse on historical meaning in the second Luisa Rey chapter comes to mind), but overall rather than feeling that connection stretching through time and space, as the travelling soul at the heart of this novel seems to, I felt distant and removed from most of this book, and glad when it was finally over.
I wanted to like this book so much. I loved the movie and after watching it, I wanted to read the book but as my father warned me, "the movie is more connected and makes more sense than the book" and he couldn't have been more right.
First off, the language is unbearably difficult. Even though I'm college-educated, I had to have a dictionary on me just to make it through certain sections. I suppose it's part of the section's style and but you could tell it was written by a pretentious British man.
Second, I was especially disappointed by the sections in Hawaii. My family is from Hawaii and I was excited to read a book where people speak with a pidgin accent, like in the movie (which I give the movie serious props since pidgin is a hard accent to mimic). However, the accent was most definitely NOT pidgin. I tried saying the sentences aloud but all it sounded like some weird form of ebonics. I understand it's a "futuristic" pidgin but I would have thought that Mitchell had done some research before trying to write a pidgin accent.
Third, there is no connection between the stories, except for the vague birthmark that is never explained. Sure there are some overarching themes and ideas but it's not enough to create a satisfying ending. I felt no connection to any characters and their often depressing stories. I slogged through this book just to be frustrated at the end.
Overall, the biggest problem with this book for me is that it's not clear what it's trying to say or be. Is it a novel? Is it an exercise in writing different types of prose? Is it just short stories? Are they suppose to be connected? How am I suppose to feel by the end of the book? Awed? Questioning the great complexities of life ? For me, it just felt like Mitchell's was writing complicated literature not because he had anything to say but rather just to show off his skill.