Erik's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
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May 03, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: top-shelf, detailed-review

All too often high-end literature (i.e. Literature) suffers from a minuscule sense of scope. Take Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Certainly it is well written but at the end, I thought, So what? It is about one family's conflicts and idiosyncracies and is ultimately no more pertinent to me than Twilight.

Cloud Atlas does not so suffer. Its stories-within-a-story are both personal and grand; at its best, far-reaching epiphanies and insights into the nature of human civilization and society are intertwined with deeply personal woes: one slave clone's desire for freedom and identity wrapped with revolution; one shepherd's sense of family shame and cowardice combined with genocide and apocalypse; a marginalized journalist's quest for integrity against the rising specter of unchecked corporotacracy.

In addition to an epic scope, David Mitchell writes with a beautifully insiduous magic, though the language, especially in one dialect-heavy section, often begins as off-putting. But in time, even this dense dialect takes on a life of its own - it seems genuinely authentic - and I feel myself there. THERE in the character's heads, THERE in a future which has not yet been written, THERE in a Victorian past. This level of immersion is very rare in books, but I think David Mitchell accomplished it.

If you haven't realized yet, I highly recommend this book. I can't even give you a genre because of its structure, which is like this: story A begins -> story B begins -> story C begins -> story D begins -> story E begins -> Story E ends -> story D ends -> story C ends -> story B ends -> story A ends. While the stories themselves are connected, I actually found several of the connections tenuous at best, contrived at worst. It doesn't really matter that much, however, because each story is unique and interesting in its own right. The first story feels like historical adventure, the next Victorian character drama, the next a corporate thriller, the next sci-fi, the next post-apocalypse.

The book is not an easy read, I will say that much. The apocalypse section in particular is narrated in a very heavy dialect and the opening historical adventure drops all sorts of names, places, and other specifics, often without explanation. But I was fine with this, ultimately. The difficulty is the price you pay - you cannot have a book this good be an easy read. I pay it gladly!
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