Saturday, January 24, 2009

BOOK: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 509 pages

tbr lite, 1% well read

Six stories, stacked within each other like Russian dolls, through time past and present. Or six movements of a musical composition, with connecting themes and overlapping characters. The overall idea and execution of Mitchell's novel worked better for me than the individual pieces. I preferred some stories and characters and writing to others. But the idea that he develops is quite amazing. As the music is described in one section: In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor; in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?

There were parts of each that I really liked. From Adam Ewing's diary, I enjoyed the musings on social strata among the races and why some people were conquered. A little history from the Southern Pacific Chatham Islands was interesting. From the Letters from Zedelghem, I liked the connection of characters to Black Swan Green, another book of Mitchell's I enjoyed. Luisa Rey's Mystery was a good old fashioned mystery with espionage and adventure.

The writing in Timothy Cavendish's Ghastly Ordeal was the easiest to read but the story was not as interesting." The Orison of Sonmi-451" was my favorite story. Set in a futuristic corpocracy in Korea, a breakdown in this dystopian world is investigated. The use of words and ideas extended from now to this imagined future was pretty cool. "Sloosh'a Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After" was the center story, the smallest Russian doll of the book. It was toughest to read with the dialect and bastardization of the English language, and although it slowed me down, it was very well done. Trying to see how it connected to the rest was the best part of this story.

This was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2004 and I am surprised it didn't win, if only for the imaginative and ambitious writing. It is such a different book, and while I didn't love it, it will stay with me for a while, thinking of the connections and way the stories layered.


  1. I loved this book! I'm sure that he's get a Booker prize sooner or later, as the quality of his writing is outstanding.

    I was interested to hear about the link with Black Swan Green. I didn't notice that, perhaps because I read them the other way round, and with several years between the two. I've have to find a copy of Cloud Atlas and have another look at those sections - thanks for pointing it out!

  2. I'm very curious about this book. I've seen both rave reviews and so-so ones, so I'm not quite sure what to expect...but in any case I'm curious.

  3. I haven't read black swan green but I loved cloud atlas. I really like your comparison of the book to russian dolls. It's a god way of looking at it.

  4. So glad you liked this one Elizabeth! I LOVED this book (actually, I've loved all of Mitchell's work). Great review!

  5. The concept sounds interesting.

    I am not sure if it is my kind of book but if I see it in the library I will pick it up and have a look.

    Thanks for the good review.

  6. Sounds interesting but I'm not sure if I would enjoy it or not. I just may have to look into this book further...thanks for the review!

  7. I started reading something by David Mitchell during the year I was in England - Black Swan Green, I think. There were parts I enjoyed, but I wasn't really sold on it. Maybe I'll try again.

  8. farmlanebooks - I agree, and it may not be his best book, but he's been nominated several times, and it may be for a 'body of work' type award.

    nymeth - I'd only seen some raves, and it wasn't quite that good for me. Definitely ambitious and interesting.

    jo - it even mentioned the Russian dolls in one of the stories, because it was a 'yes!' moment for me. I really loved BLack Swan Green.

    wendy - He's an amazing writer, luckily I still have a few more books of his to read.
    Even within the different stories, the writing voice was so different. It would be easy to convince someone they had been written by different people.

    caspette - It was long, just over 500 pages, and I very nearly gave up at page 30; only knowing how much Laura had enjoyed it kept me going.

    staci and jenny - it's a big concept book and might not be for everyone, but the style was so unique. I found the mystery of how the stories fit together better than the stories themselves.

  9. Wonderful review! This has been on my TBR for a very long time.

  10. I have Black Swan Green by this author on my TBR list. I've been meaning to read this one for awhile now. Interesting review :)

  11. This is one of my favorites, And the Sunmi story was my fave within the book too! You must read Ghostwritten now, you'll find out why/how the world ended. :-)

  12. This book has been on my TBR piles for years possibly, I keep meaning to get around to it. We'll see how it goes..

  13. I would really love to read this book, but I have to admit it intimidates me more than a little bit. Sounds like it would be worth the effort.

  14. I'm sorry you didn't love it as much as I did. It is such an unusual book I am trying to get my husband to read it as well. I look forward to reading more of his writing.


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