Sunday, 1 August 2010

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell.

The last two months have been pretty barren, blogwise. Ten posts in two months! That's pretty minimalist. It's going to pick up again now, though. That's not a promise, it's a threat, and you can keep that in the fridge for as long as you want.

So, Cloud Atlas. This 500+ page book has about 200 pages of lengthy, worshipful quotes from esteemed literary sources (and steemless ones) before you even get to the flyleaf. And as I am the only person I've ever met who thinks qoutes from critics, reviewers and other authors are an excellent way to judge a book, I had pretty high expectations.

Long story short: it met them. Cloud Atlas is excelllent.

"It's an awe-inspiring virtuoso display of voice, world-building and scale. It's funny and exciting and clever and hugely creative." Ben Carroll, Learning To Read.

Add that to the quotes, Sceptre. Yeah.

Cloud Atlas is six different stories, covering centuries past and future, and fiction and non-fiction (sort of). The characters and stories are distant from each other, at times, but they still overlap. It's these overlaps that make the book exceptional as well as just impressive.

I might have talked before -- I should have -- about how much I like the use of multiple narrators to see differenet sides of the same story. It's such a great kick to see a character and/or event from the outside that you've already got to know and trust from the outside. It's especially great when they disagree... OOH YOU TRUSTED THE NARRATOR AND YOU GOT BURNED, or HA! LOOK HOW WRONG HE WAS ABOUT HIMSELF. It is, in some slight way, like hearing other people talking about you. Everyone likes that.

My own current novel -- Polaroid -- is an exercise in this, but in an opposite way to Cloud Atlas.  Whereas my approach is to get as close to the sources as possible, and have the sources as close to each other as possible -- to isolate where the difference comes from, or something -- Mitchell puts centuries between his sources, sometimes, and they don't necessarily all take place in the same universe. One source can read another as fiction.

I get such a kick from that.

I was going to criticise Cloud Atlas for it's last-page (okay, last two.) message, which is a moral turn-around from the world view we've been slowly construcing from the other 527 pages. What a gimmick/rip-off/joke/amateur, etc.

But actually though.

It sort of works. For a start, it makes the whole book less depressing (not that it was depressing.) It's a good message. Secondly, it's typical of the book so far to have the rug pulled from under our feet, truths turned into lies before our (very) eyes, etc etc. There is a second message in Cloud Atlas:

David Mitchell is cleverer than us.


  1. Somehow I've never read David Mitchell. I'm planning to get to The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet soon as part of my Booker longlist reading, but I hope to get to his backlist this winter. I'm glad to hear yet another glowing review of Cloud Atlas, which I really should have read by now. Thanks!

  2. "Ben Carroll's review of David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' is so good, it makes me want to read 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell."

    Scott Martin, as featured in Scott's Interior Monologue

  3. The review of his new book in The New Yorker is practically a song of praise to him. But, you can count me as a dedicated member of the choir singing his praises. I've not read the new book, but Black Swan Green is fantastic.

  4. David Mitchell IS clevererer than us. Just finished Thousand Autumns, and though my thoughts on the novel are still congealing, one thing is pretty clear: Yes, David Mitchell is smart. I have Cloud Atlas on my shelf also, and your review adds one more (in addition to the dozens of pages of critical praise) positive one to the hundreds out there in the blog'o'sphere. Must. Read. Soon. Thanks for a cool review!

  5. After purchasing Cloud Atlas from the Works for £1.99 (as rec by you) this is my new book to read after I have finished my current one. So it'll better be good ;)