Imaginative. Ambitious. Rich. Enthralling. These are just a few of the adjectives that pop into my mind when I think of Cloud Atlas, the David Mitchell novel from 2004 that I completed last night. Cloud Atlas is so interesting and unique I’m not even sure how to describe it, but in a nutshell it’s a series of stories that span a huge swath of time from the past to the present and far into the future that are loosely interconnected and when put together tells the story of what mankind’s future might hold if we do not veer from our course of corporate control of politics and everything else. I said it was ambitious!
The story begins with the tale of a 19th century American writer on a journey in the South Pacific, reaches a pivotal point in the distant future where mankind has experienced a “fall” back to his hunter and gatherer ways, and then abruptly does an about-face and journeys back to the beginning. Each story is interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention, but when put together the novel is a strange and exotic journey itself. I wasn’t sure what to think when I began reading the novel, and when the first twist came I was quite confused but continued on, and after a while I figured out Mitchell’s strategy but still had no idea where he was taking me or where I would end up. It was such a fun read.
I’m not going to delve into the plot, but I will say the novel was superbly written and the characters were robust and each was unique. Mitchell is a glorious writer with a fabulous imagination. I’m not usually one for literary gimmicks (I thought Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad relied too heavily on its gimmick), but the way Mitchell tied these stories together was quite brilliant. Again, I don’t want to give anything away because I encourage you to read this book — but I will say each story leads into the next with just a hint of connection. The novel is pretty complicated a have to admit. At times you can lose track of characters and relationships, especially since just when you get used to a character Mitchell switches things up and changes stories. I would have loved a character map, or perhaps I will simply read it again and keep notes.
I highly recommend Cloud Atlas. And you should definitely read it before Fall 2012 so you can be well prepared for the film which stars Tom Hanks and Halle Berry amongst others.