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David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, his newest novel The Bone Clocks has been selected for the 2014 longlist. Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.
This goes down as one of my favorite books of the year.
Story in a nutshell (without spoilers):
Cloud Atlas consists of 6 [slightly] interlinking stories, told from the viewpoint of 6 different individuals at different points in time. The first story consists of the letters of Adam Ewing, and his fateful trip on a ship in the Pacific in the mid 1850's.
From there we go to the second story, which takes place in the 1930's and is told from the viewpoint of Robert Frobisher, a talented disinherited muscial composer who visits an infirm maestro and his family in an attempt to get work and advantage. His story is told through his letters to a scientist friend/lover named Rufus Sixsmith.
The next story takes place in the 1970's, and has to do with reporter Luisa Rey, and her exposure of corporate malfeasance that could result in disaster. Sixsmith is a scientist there, and plays an important part of the story.
Next, (and my personal favorite), is the story of Timothy Cavendish, in present day England, and the tale of his (mis) adventures as a book publisher. Utterly hilarious and poignant.
The second to last story becomes a sci/fi read of future corporate controlled Korea, complete with cloned humans. And the final story is one that takes place in post apocalyptic Hawaii.
And then we go back to each story, in opposite order, and put the pieces together and complete the cliffhanger endings from the first half.
I think this book is brilliant. I often found myself rereading various sections because I found them so ingenius and profound. I think David Mitchell is one of the most talented new writers around.
Cloud Atlas is a series of six interlocked tales - encompassing a wide array of eras, locales, and genres -in which the protagonist in each story is impacted in some significant manner by the tale told in the preceding section (or the following section, as the book's tales wind out in reverse order in the second half).
So...the stories we tell, and the sense we make of things, have meaning. I'm not sure if Mitchell intended this a straightforward(ish) reincarnation tale, or if the larger theme has something to do with the idea that the stories we tell survive us, perhaps at least partially define what it means to be human, or enable us to retain some vestige of humanity in the face of forces (imperialism, slavery, corportization, or just our own worst impulses) designed to strip that away. The centerpiece of the book does take place in a future world in which civilization has been literally reduced to the ability to remember, and relay that rememberance forward in a sort of verbal folklore.
This is a good, moving, well-written, and entertaining book. One's patience for it is probably dependent on one's degree of exposure to genre fiction - I think someone approaching this from the perspective of classic "literary fiction" might find it off-putting - part of the fun here is the manner in which Mitchell plays with the tropes and cliche of various genres (sci-fi, hardboiled crime fiction, belles lettres, etc) across the six tales. That said, there's lots of "high literary" enjoyment to be had here - the writing is stellar, and there's lots of good thematic linkage (boats, bridges, musical themes, etc.) that add quite a bit of depth.
I would also like to dispel the notion that this is a "difficult" book in the style of David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, etc.Read more ›
I've just finished this phenomenal book by David Mitchell, a present from a friend who recommended I read it immediately.
So glad I did. It has aspects of the dystopian future scenarios that I so loved in The Handmaid's Tale, Dune, and The Sparrow coupled with recent past and long-past stories. It addresses basic questions of where we are going as a species, following one soul reincarnated through six lives. That soul is on a trajectory that traces the basic human desire for domination, the often-myopic thinking of the powerful, and the fate of the powerless. It is on a grand scale, beautifully told, and quite enthralling.
The structure is what had me hooked to start--it is a mirror of itself. Rough breakdown: The first and twelfth chapters are "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing," a story of subterfuge, gullibility, and poison on a ship bound from the South Seas to London.
Second and tenth chapters are epistolary, taking place in 1939 through the correspondence of Frobisher--a bit of a cad and scammer--to his friend Sixsmith. Frobisher is a brilliant musician but the family shame, in the process of writing his great masterpiece while apprenticing under a syphilitic genius composer.
Third and ninth chapters follow the efforts of investigative journalist Luisa Rey to uncover serious evil at a soon-to-be opened nuclear facility in the mid-70s. One of her primary sources in the mystery Sixsmith, Frobisher's correspondent from the last chapter, but now 35 years older.
Fourth and eighth chapters are the disturbing and frequently funny tales of Timothy Cavendish, a bumbling, arrogant, failure of a publisher in London during roughly our current times, maybe a little later.Read more ›