Neil Powell's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3826800
's review
Jun 04, 10

Read in November, 2008

Several short stories, that on their own are relatively weak. The author has linked them together tenuously with some mistakenly profound pseudo-religious nonsense and a tattoo. An interesting idea, let down by the poor quality of the writing. Pretentious twaddle of the highest order

This book seems to be one of those hoaxes to call out hack reviewers. I'm slightly puzzled by the fact that Mitchell hasn't come forward yet six years after publication.
He hits all the usual clichés that are the hallmark of the "great" modern novel. The whole thing is a pretentious construction of six separate stories, with the protagonists in each being incarnations of each other, and ending up in possession of the story of the previous one in some way.

The first one is the story of some American lawyer on a ship in the Pacific some time in the 1850s. It's supposed to be a journal, but it's a hideously unconvincing one. If it wasn't intentional, I don't know why these pretentious cockpouches never seem to be able to manage a decent pastiche; it's as if actually reading anything they didn't write themselves is beneath them. Replacing every instance of "and" with "&", trying to use outdated vocabulary (incorrectly, most of the time; in the four pages where he repeatedly uses the word "kerchief" (before forgetting it exists again; some word-of-the-day calendar is probably responsible for that one), he inexplicably seems to be under the impression it's short for "handkerchief", and spells it with a prepended apostrophe), and just sprinkling racism over everything isn't good enough.
The fact that it's rife with anachronisms doesn't help.

The second story takes the form of letters written by an English twat in the 1930s, who moved to Belgium to escape debt. It's probably completely forgettable to non-Belgians, but a special kind of annoying to me. Mitchell managed to spell "Zedelgem" as "Zedelghem", which was indeed the correct spelling before the spelling reform of 1946, but uses the modern spelling for everything else. I don't know enough about the spelling reforms of French in the 20th century to say if he made the same mistake there, but I'm guessing he did.
Somewhere along the way this English twat finds the diary of the American twat for no good narrative reason, because that's what passes for plot coherence.

The third story is an attempt at an action spy thriller type novel set in 1975, the link with the previous one being the addressee of the letters, who passes them on to the protagonist of this one. It's as forgettable as the fourth one, which is something about some old guy who's sent the manuscript of this novel in the mail. Somewhere along the way a writer throws a reviewer off a balcony, I don't know.

The fifth is where he really shines: it's set in the unspecified future, and the world has turned into the tritest, most derivative dystopia imaginable. It has everything! Corporate overlords, genetically engineered slaves, cannibalism, giant totalitarian conspiracies, cutesy spelling gimmicks and neologisms, anything you could want! It's so horrifically transparent it makes Snow Crash look like a masterpiece. It's even set in Corea.

The final one is obviously the obligatory post-apocalyptic one, where the protagonist of the last one is worshipped like a goddess. It would be merely tedious if not for the ridiculous and completely unnecessary apostrophes everywhere, which render it actively obnoxious and pretty much unreadable. Initially, at least, because Mitchell doesn't have the attention span needed to keep it up for a whole chapter.

After that he goes through the entire list in reverse order again (because he *hates* you), and then at the very end he tries to make the obligatory vapid point (I forget what it was; something about drops in the ocean), slaps a suitably pretentious title onto the whole thing, and ships it off to his publishers and watches the money roll in.

So yes, if this isn't a deliberate hoax, it's a violently shit novel and a new low in post-modern self-indulgence. I'm not at all surprised at the reviews it's received either way.
217 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Cloud Atlas.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-50 of 181) (181 new)


Chris "a violently shit novel".


George This was close to my general impression of the novel, if it can be called that. The six, supposedly interlocking stories, are tediously done at best. A couple of the six novellas have promise, particularly the fifth and sixth ones. The third and fourth ones, from memory, had a great deal of promise, as stories in their own right but abruptly ended and had little plot development.

I particularly like your observation on number six: "The final one is obviously the obligatory post-apocalyptic one, where the protagonist of the last one is worshipped like a goddess. It would be merely tedious if not for the ridiculous and completely unnecessary apostrophes everywhere, which render it actively obnoxious and pretty much unreadable. Initially, at least, because Mitchell doesn't have the attention span needed to keep it up for a whole chapter."

Very true and it did just end abruptly.


Lambert Brilliant troll


message 4: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Lambert wrote: "Brilliant troll"

Hardly, it's a little long for a troll. This book is overrated dog shite


Lambert Dog shite is correct. Unsubstantiated, contrarian crap. Best if you return to your Dan Brown.


message 6: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell You best check my ratings. Dan Brown gets a one from me as well. I don't see which part(s) of my review is/are unsubstantiated. Would be grateful if you'd point them out. I'd also love to read your review of this, maybe then I'd understand why you rate this pretentious, hash job of a novel so highly


Lambert There is zero balance in your "review".


message 8: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Oh dear, if you were expecting a professional review, you're on the wrong site. Why would I attempt to balance a review for a book I absolutely hated? In my eyes, a book that garners pretty much universal acclaim from all critics needs to have a little more depth to it, rather than cliched short stories and pseudo-buddist musings about reincarnation. Even this wouldn't be so bad if the writing was at least semi decent. IN MY OPINION.

I would welcome your own opinion, if I was allowed to actually read it. If you are willing to critise my opinion, you should at least allow me to do the same


George Lambert wrote: "There is zero balance in your "review"."

Neil does call the novel's concept "an interesting idea".

I too would be interested to read your opinion of the novel, seeing as you have given it 5 stars.


Lambert Good luck to you Neil. Happy reading.


message 11: by Paul (new)

Paul You got my vote there, Neil. This sounds like EXACTLY the novel I would have written at age 24, if I'd had the energy. Shudder.


message 12: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Paul wrote: "You got my vote there, Neil. This sounds like EXACTLY the novel I would have written at age 24, if I'd had the energy. Shudder."

Cheers, definitely a minority opinion here. I've had a number of abusive (and now deleted) comments as well as the few people I've found who dislike this novel as much as me


message 13: by Paul (last edited Nov 11, 2011 08:21AM) (new)

Paul Well, I started it but the horror began to dawn on me and I quickly bailed out. But since I was already embroiled in a long ongoing argument about why I hated American Psycho when the rest of the goodreads world loves it, I wasn't prepared to stick my neck out over this one. But somebody had to.


message 14: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Paul wrote: "Well, I started it but the horror began to dawn on me and I quickly bailed out. But since I was already embroiled in a long ongoing argument about why I hated American Psycho when the rest of the g..."

American psycho is brilliant: how very dare you have an opinion different to mine!


message 15: by Neil (last edited Feb 11, 2012 07:24AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell wally wrote: ""After that he goes through the entire list in reverse order again (because he *hates* you), and then at the very end he tries to make the obligatory vapid point (I forget what it was; something ab..."

Exactly my thoughts, naff short stories reworked and molded together using a clumsy and unoriginal reincarnation device. Honestly it's my most hated novel


message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Faye Loved the novel, but also love your review! And the 6th novel with all the apostrophe's - definitely annoying.


message 17: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Thomsen Wonderful review, especially the way that your only substantiated critiques are about spelling "mistakes" that no one cares about.


message 18: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Kevin wrote: "Wonderful review, especially the way that your only substantiated critiques are about spelling "mistakes" that no one cares about."

You're welcome, glad you enjoyed


message 19: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell First trailer for the film: why oh why did I watch it? made me realise why I hated this book so much

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWnAqF...;


Lambert I know we disagree on the book, but I'm fairly confident that the film will be absolute shite. The Wachowskis will be very heavy handed and any subtlety in the original will be hammered out of it to make sure we all get the messages.


George Interestingly I think the film looks like it might be interesting, which is more than can be said for the book, so I disagree with both of you! Some people say bad books make good movies, maybe this may be the case.


message 22: by Sylvia (new) - added it

Sylvia Vale First off, I am in love with your review. Secondly, I'd much rather read your review over and over again than this book =D
Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was just being hyper-intolerant, but I'm at page 20 and it's terri-boring me to sleep... Usually I can tell if I like a novel from the get-go and after an unsuccessful start and the decision to read your review I am more than convinced that I will hate it as much as you did... and here I wanted to like it so badly! When does the post-apocalyptic part start? Maybe I'll just read that...


George Its the sixth story, towards the middle of the book.


message 24: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Although, if you wanted a decent post apocalyptic novel, there is much better about. The Book of Dave by Will Self has the unusual grammatical style/ invented language, and In The Country Of Last Things by Paul Auster does the end of the world thing better.


message 25: by Sylvia (new) - added it

Sylvia Vale Excellent! I shall check those out asap! Thanks again, Neil!


Higgins Excellent review Neil, this book was neither original nor clever, and in particular I would agree that the first narrative was excruciatingly bad in its attempts to mimic 19th century language and sensibilities. The reincarnation gimmick does nothing for the stories; no secrets unlocked and no motivations revealed, just a tenuous 'connection' between characters with little else in common. All in all, this book is much less than the sum of its parts.


message 27: by Alain (new) - rated it 1 star

Alain Dewitt Thank goodness it wasn't just me!! I hated this book but there were page after page after page of 5 star reviews. Then I filtered for one star reviews and found some sanity!


message 28: by Alain (new) - rated it 1 star

Alain Dewitt That Lambert guy is an idiot! This book is a PQ (pretentiousness quotient) test. If you liked it, YOU FAIL!


message 29: by Sylvia (new) - added it

Sylvia Vale Alain wrote: "That Lambert guy is an idiot! This book is a PQ (pretentiousness quotient) test. If you liked it, YOU FAIL!"

Haha! I shall use this as an assessment test when first meeting people...
-"Did you ever read and enjoy Cloud Atlas?"
-"Loved it!"
*walking away, vowing to never speak to them again...


message 30: by Alain (new) - rated it 1 star

Alain Dewitt Sylvia wrote: "Alain wrote: "That Lambert guy is an idiot! This book is a PQ (pretentiousness quotient) test. If you liked it, YOU FAIL!"

Haha! I shall use this as an assessment test when first meeting people......"


A woman after my own heart!


Jason Lambert's a huge idiot. But not because he liked Cloud Atlas. He's an idiot because he called Neil a troll for disliking the book in his own review space!

People should be allowed to dislike this book, just as they should be allowed to like it (as I do!) without being called names.


Jason It's also a very well written review, Neil.


message 33: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Great review, Neil. It also seems to have turned into sticky fly paper for naysay'rs.


Björn That's interesting, because our views on this novel differ extremely. I'd say, you are simply totally wrong:)


message 35: by Phil (new) - rated it 1 star

Phil Great review - I am at the 90% point on kindle and it feels like swimming through molasses. I keep holding out on the premise the book will suddenly shift, everything comes together and eureka - 5 stars. I should have stopped after the first chapter. Life is to short for reading this type of drivel. Your review thankfully convinced me I'm not missing something, except my life back.


message 36: by Sylvia (new) - added it

Sylvia Vale Phil wrote: "Great review - I am at the 90% point on kindle and it feels like swimming through molasses. I keep holding out on the premise the book will suddenly shift, everything comes together and eureka - 5 ..."

Daaamn! You are tenacious!


message 38: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Deb wrote: "Jason wrote: "He appears unhappy: http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos..."

priceless"


Exactly how I felt


message 39: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell First reviews in for the film: sounds like the adaptation nailed the book!

http://www.theweek.co.uk/film/49744/c...


message 40: by Sylvia (new) - added it

Sylvia Vale Neil wrote: "First reviews in for the film: sounds like the adaptation nailed the book!

http://www.theweek.co.uk/film/49744/c..."


My God, a movie that made a perfect book adaptation... *cursing the gods*


message 41: by Neil (new) - rated it 1 star

Neil Powell Sylvia wrote: "Neil wrote: "First reviews in for the film: sounds like the adaptation nailed the book!

http://www.theweek.co.uk/film/49744/c..."

My God, a movie th..."


By that I meant the movie appears to be an overblown, pretentious mess. Exactly like book then, and therefore an accurate adaptation


Cărăşălu I think the movie will still be better than the book. At least because the involved filmmakers have more directorial talent than Mitchell literary.


message 43: by Tabasco (new)

Tabasco Very good review, I fully agree. Watched the movie tonight, and it has the same exact problem: "posing" as something more than what it actually is.


message 44: by Alain (new) - rated it 1 star

Alain Dewitt Neil wrote: "First reviews in for the film: sounds like the adaptation nailed the book!

http://www.theweek.co.uk/film/49744/c..."


So, the film is crap, too?


Maciek Wow, you really disliked this book with a passion. I enjoyed parts of it - the one you somehow missed in your review about the crudmudgeon publisher was my favorite. It did not work for me as a whole and it's interesting to see how it provokes different reactions in readers.


Jason That curmudgeon publisher and his antics amused me to no end. That whole section is very farcical. It reminds me of like a Three's Company episode or something.


Maciek Jason wrote: "That curmudgeon publisher and his antics amused me to no end. That whole section is very farcical. It reminds me of like a Three's Company episode or something."

Yes, that was the best part of the book for me. It's often difficult to make the humor work in fiction, but here it works completely. Good to see you're all right after the hurricane, Jason!


message 48: by Jason (last edited Nov 04, 2012 06:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason Thanks, Maciek! Only lost a few roof shingles. Got them back up yesterday afternoon.


Maciek Good to hear!


Shandelirious Phil wrote: "Great review - I am at the 90% point on kindle and it feels like swimming through molasses. I keep holding out on the premise the book will suddenly shift, everything comes together and eureka - 5 ..."

My thoughts exactly, particularly about holding out for the second half of the book. Such a crashing disappointment. That was it?!?


« previous 1 3 4
back to top