Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: July 9 to August 20, 2014
Read Count: 2
Recommended by: a lot of people
Recommended for: people who like short stories that weave

Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.

Mostly historical fiction with a few sci-fi and fantasy elements mixed in. It’s cleverly done and the overall effect is very interesting. David Mitchell has a wondrous way with words. Highly recommended.

I finished reading for the second time awhile ago, but ended up sitting on this “review” for some time now because I could not find anything to say, other than “highly recommended.” This one of those books you have to experience for yourself. No review can can sum it up or give you an idea what’s inside. How anyone think they could turn this into a big-budget star-studded movie is baffling to me. (“This book defies a lot of things, so let’s turn it into a movie??” Because that always turn out amazing.)

So what is this book like? I’ll try to give an overview. There are six novellas nested inside and each story is set in a different place and time period, with one set in a distant apocalyptic future, which isn’t as strangely out of place as you’d think. There’s a common thread woven through these six stories linking them to each other across time and space, and each story is told by a character from the next story. The writing is unique in that all characters have well-defined voices that reflect their time periods. Mitchell experiments with different styles and genres, and the result is six distinct stories that actually read like they’re written by six different authors.

The beginning was slow for me though, mainly because it’s fragmented and difficult to follow. It wasn’t until I got to the second story that I could sort of grasp what was going on. During the first half of the book, I had to push myself to read on, which I’m glad I did, because when I reached the end of the sixth story and the beginning of the second half of the other stories, things started coming together methodically, almost magically, to form the big picture, and it was at that moment that I finally saw what Mitchell had been doing all along. And it’s beautifully done. I’m still in awe.

There are so many quotable passages–Mitchell really does have a wondrous way with words–that I could fill this whole space with quotes, but I think these will do.

The mind abhors a vacancy and is wont to people it with phantoms.

[…]

People are obscenities. Would rather be music than be a mass of tubes squeezing semisolids around itself for a few decades before becoming so dribblesome it’ll no longer function.

[…]

Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.

[…]

To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you assume we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.

I won this book from a Goodreads Giveaway and would like to thank the people at Random House for sending a copy.

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5 thoughts on “Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

  1. thebookgator September 24, 2014 / 11:24 am

    Thanks for sharing! I’m a bit more motivated, thanks to your review.

    Like

    • 1stavenue September 24, 2014 / 12:09 pm

      The first half is a pain to get through, but things will make more sense when you get to the 6th story. Hang in there!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. thebookgator June 17, 2015 / 11:05 am

    Re-read your review from a post-read perspective. First, excellent quotes. I missed the cloud/soul one, for some reason (like not reading carefully, I would bet). I did note the ‘fluffy bunny’ one and thought it hilarious, a perfect representation of why Timothy Cavendish was a bit of a hack. Second, i agree, it was a challenging book to review, for many reasons, but you hit one on the head–the multitude of style/time periods. I thought you did a fine, concise job of managing to sum up and give your reaction! This is one I probably could have made a pages-long review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi June 19, 2015 / 2:05 pm

      Thanks! And yeah, this is a book for the classroom since there’s just so much to unpack. I’m sure I missed a lot of references and would like to give it a reread, but the thought of wading through Adam Ewing’s section makes me reconsider.

      Like

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