Jul 03, 07
Those who like a challenge
Read in April, 2006
The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell--recommended
This is a VERY long book. Mostly because it is several books in one. One of the professional reviewers compared it to a Russian nesting doll -- a very apt comparison. I enjoyed this book and intend to read it again in the future. It's difficult to even answer the question, "so what is this book about?" It's easier to describe the psychology, philosophy, and themes of the book than it is to describe the plot. I will do my best. The book follows several characters as time moves from the 19th century to a futuristic dystopian world with clones and all. It's like Roots meets Erin Brockovich meets Logan's Run meets Planet of the Apes. Needless to say there are a lot of Archetypes in this book. The different stories are woven together very intricately both in a six degrees of separation kind of way and through deeper connections. Mitchell's greatest talent is being able to switch personas so adeptly. Each section of the novel is told in varying dialects of the English language.
My one hesitancy is recommending this book is that each story present its own liguistic challenges for the reader, especially intensified by the manner in which Mitchell throws the reader into a story in the middle of the action. The reader is forced to solve a mini-mystery just to be able to figure out what's going on, who's who, and how this odd dialect can be deciphered. The book definitely moves along. It is fairly well paced, full of action and suspense, and intellectually stimulating (makes suduko look like tiddly winks).
The book's exploration of themes such as power, greed, repression, suffering, atonement, grace, and rebirth provide the backbone for this perhaps overly complex set of tales. The book is mythological, allegorical, spiritual. Stepping back, it does seem that it would be necessary to use several inter-related tales to fully explore these themes. The novellas become a tapestry of parables.
For those who don't like gimmics -- well, there is a fair amount of artistic gymnastics on display in this book. I don't know about you, but part of why I like watching Robin Williams is because he can switch character so effortlessly. David Mitchell shows precisely this sort of effortless perspective/persona/dialetic/plot shifting. Look, I'm not going to pull any punches. This book was a lot of work. I was exhausted after I finished reading it. That's why a second read will be rewarding. I will have worked out the logistics of the book and I will be able to concentrate on the rich themes, the beautifully drawn characters, and the philosophical questions posed. Most of my favorite works of "great" literature need to be read several times, after all. Any place worth staying to explore usually requires that you get the lay of the land first.
Going back to the standard questions I ask myself when I'm done reading a book: Was it worth reading? Yes. This book is worth reading -- probably several times. Was it life changing? Probably. It made me look at how people's lives fit together, and it made me think about cycles of political power and social dynamics. I'm fairly certain the life-changes will be more profound when I read it again. Will it change the way I live? Maybe. I think it made me more environmentally aware and conscious. Whether I take steps to do anything about it is still up in the air. It may help me to understand human behavior a little better and therefore help me to react to situations involving power/greed/repression with a more deconstructed calm, intelligent, awareness rather than volatile emotion. Who would I recommend this book to? Those who like to read and don't mind working at it. Those who like artistic gymnastics. Those who like books and discussions involving philosophical and moral issues.