Megha's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
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Sep 15, 12

bookshelves: reviews
Read in April, 2011


(DISCLAIMER: This review was my knee-jerk reaction right after reading the book. Since then my admiration for CA has diminished. I will let the original review stay as it is. I disown this review though.)

WOW. With my vocab-deficit, I can't find the perfect word to express how reading Cloud Atlas felt. I will put spectacular as a placeholder. It has been quite some time since I read something this exciting.

So. The thing about Cloud Atlas is that everything explaining the central theme of the novel is embedded, in very clear words, within the novel, but rather in-conspicuously. Mitchell does not try to expound his theory anywhere, he does not hold a laser pointer attracting the reader's attention to the heart of the matter.
I can easily pull out a couple of quotes from the novel, which would perfectly summarize what, for me, is the essence of the book. Most of those quotes appear to be just another thing that one of the characters said. Seen within the scope of the individual stories where these quotes appear, they wouldn't amount to much. It is only when you look at the complete map that Mitchell has laid out, that they begin to be meaningful. However, unless the reader has already developed a vague understanding of what Mitchell is trying to tell us, one could walk by those sentences/dialogues unsuspectingly. You need to know what you are looking for, to be able to notice them. And figuring this out makes the reading experience entirely wonderful and intellectually engaging. Which is why I am refraining from including any quotes giving away the theme.

I suppose everyone has already heard enough about how Cloud Atlas consists of six different stories and how it is structured in an innovative manner. These six stories are very different from each other, yet they belong very much together. Mitchell connects these stories in various ways and at multiple levels. There are some direct connections which Mitchell spells out for everyone. He even mentions a few things which mirror the form of the novel itself. Then the stories are sprinkled with numerous subtle hints which give one delight if discovered, but do not take away much if not. And at last there are connections at a conceptual level which bind and unify the entire thing.

Sadly, an undiscerning reader may not notice much going on beyond the structure of the novel and perhaps label it as gimmicky. One of the characters in the novel itself brings up the question about whether this form is revolutionary or gimmicky, with respect to a musical composition that he is writing. In my opinion, the form is well justified and does a marvelous job at putting the point across. However, this form itself could also be held responsible for obfuscating the main point by diverting a reader's attention.

Each of the six stories is largely plot-driven. As Mitchell moves from one time period to another, the story's setting, tone, language, characterization etc. changes drastically. There are authors who sound the same in their different novels. And here we have Mitchell who sounds like six different authors within one novel. Each story can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novella. But the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts, by an astonishing amount.
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Praj (last edited Apr 13, 2011 03:02AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Praj After The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet I was not sure whether i would ever read another Mitchell book, but i reckon i was hasty with my decision.


message 2: by Megha (last edited Apr 13, 2011 03:07AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Megha Praj wrote: "After The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet I was not sure whether i would ever read another Mitchell book, but i reckon i was hasty with my decision."

Oh, I have no idea about how "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" is. But "Cloud Atlas" does seem to have a higher average rating than that one (both among my GR friends and over-all).

I definitely plan to read more of Mitchell's books.


message 3: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Terrific review. I have been meaning to get to this one for a while.


message 4: by Megha (last edited Aug 26, 2012 07:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Megha Stephen wrote: "Terrific review. I have been meaning to get to this one for a while."

Thanks Stephen.
I had started reading it first back in 2009, but had to put it on hiatus for some reason. It took me all of two years to get back to it and actually read it. I am glad I did.


message 5: by tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

tim I've not yet been able to put into words why I like this book so much. Which is why I'm all the more impressed by those who do it well. Kudos.


message 6: by Megha (last edited Apr 16, 2011 12:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Megha Thanks Tim.
There is really a lot going on in this novel. I wonder if it is even possible to capture the complete experience in words.

What is your favorite Mitchell novel?


message 7: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick Black alright, you've convinced me.


Megha Yay! I love it when my review convinces someone to read a book.


Cecily The Thousand Autumns is very different from Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten and Number 9 Dream, being a straightforward historical novel, recounted in a simple, linear way. Liking or disliking Cloud Atlas probably won't have much bearing on whether you like The Thousand Autumns (or Black Swan Green, which is another straightforward narrative, albeit in modernish times).


Jason What has led to you disown this review, Megha?


message 11: by Megha (last edited Mar 01, 2013 08:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Megha I think my reasons are similar to what some of the other reviewers have said....that Mitchell is trying too hard, and makes his point in a very contrived fashion.
But I don't want to go ahead and write a negative review for CA as it has been over a year since I read it, my comments could end up being off-base.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Paganus Megha, I just re-read your review after seeing the film yesterday. I still feel it is a very astute analysis of the novel, even if you might have departed from it.


Cecily Megha, what made you change your opinion so vehemently, and what do you think now? (You could write two reviews, whether in two sections here, or for two different versions of the book.)


Megha Ian wrote: "Megha, I just re-read your review after seeing the film yesterday. I still feel it is a very astute analysis of the novel, even if you might have departed from it."

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ian.
What did you think of the movie? I have yet to watch it.


Megha Cecily wrote: "Megha, what made you change your opinion so vehemently, and what do you think now? (You could write two reviews, whether in two sections here, or for two different versions of the book.)"

I probably won't write another review, Cecily. The book is not fresh enough in my memory to write one. Though I suppose, I still agree with a lot of what I say in the current review as to how Mitchell has laid out Cloud Atlas. I just happened to realize later that I didn't like what Mitchell does as much as I thought at first.
Take, for example, this sentence in my review: I can easily pull out a couple of quotes from the novel, which would perfectly summarize what, for me, is the essence of the book. In retrospect, I don't like Mitchell doing that. I would have much preferred a show, don't tell manner of writing. He spells out for the readers what the take-away message of the book is supposed to be instead letting each one of us take it in our own way. And some of the other things he used to connect the stories seemed a bit forced.

2666, which I happen to be reading at the moment, is actually a good example in context of this comment. The book consists of 5 very loosely related parts and Bolano doesn't explicitly tell us what the book is meant to be about. And yet all the 5 parts work together as a whole.


message 16: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Paganus Megha wrote: "What did you think of the movie? I have yet to watch it."

I loved it. I haven't decided whether to write anything about it yet. I might. I think the film necessarily deals with the structural issues differently and more accessibly.


message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Paganus Megha wrote: "In retrospect, I don't like Mitchell doing that. I would have much preferred a show, don't tell manner of writing. He spells out for the readers what the take-away message of the book is supposed to be instead letting each one of us take it in our own way. And some of the other things he used to connect the stories seemed a bit forced."

Some of these reservations seems to relate to the mechanism of the metafiction. We have all probably read more metafiction since then and seen it develop, and the dust might have settled, so that relatively early attempts seem clumsy. The film assembles the bonds between the characters at the climax, and the ending is really quite profound and affecting.


Cecily Thanks for the explanation, Megha, and I think Ian's comment on it makes sense.

My own view is that although the structure is clearly gimmicky and, as you say, some of the take-away messages are unsubtle (those darn birthmarks), there is much more to it than that. In fact, I noticed so much more on a reread that I increased my rating!

I guess the fact we react differently demonstrates there is enough meat to it to be worth discussing.

I haven't read 2666 (I confess I'm somewhat put off by the sheer weight of the thing - perhaps I need a Kindle), but it it increasingly sounds like one I ought to try.


message 19: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian Paganus I'm a bit nervous about 2666. It seems to generate equally different views. I'm glad I read The Savage Detectives beforehand, because it (plus Amulet) gives me something concrete and attractive to hold onto, in case I don't fall for 2666.


Megha Ian wrote: "Megha wrote: "What did you think of the movie? I have yet to watch it."

I loved it. I haven't decided whether to write anything about it yet. I might. I think the film necessarily deals with the s..."


Good to hear. I am quite curious about the movie, hopefully I'll get to watch it soon.


Megha Ian wrote: "I'm a bit nervous about 2666. It seems to generate equally different views. I'm glad I read The Savage Detectives beforehand, because it (plus Amulet) gives me something concrete and attractive to ..."

2666 is my first Bolano, so I don't know how it compares to his others. I can see 2666 ending up as one of my favorites though.


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