It’ll grow on you — “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell
In fact, while still within the first twenty pages, I debated leaving it conveniently on the bus.
However, like a good little book-nerd I plowed through. Thank goodness I did, because when the metaphoric clouds parted and the sun came out, it came out full force and nearly blinding.
“Cloud Atlas” is less a novel and more a collection of short stories that are all connected. Sometimes, the connection is really minute, but in other cases it’s fairly blatant. Separate narratives intertwine, some touching and some mysterious and almost all fascinating. All of these stories come together and create a literary ocean of narrative and styles. This ocean doesn’t go unnoticed or unintended – one of the last lines of the book is “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Michell is a playful writer who effortlessly switches from sci-fi tales to a practically Dickensian voice in a matter of pages. His characters are vivid and all over the map, from practically saintly to completely flawed human beings. It’s a pretty spectacular piece of literature to wrap your head around.
As previously mentioned, I could have lived without the sailor story that both opens and closes the book. Framing device or not, it’s by far the least interesting of the pieces here. However, everything else in-between is gold, as far as I’m concerned. Of particular awesomeness are the narrative of a young reporter about to reveal a giant environmental cover-up, and the tale of a publisher trying to escape blackmailers who winds up committed to an old folks home. There’s also a fascinating tale of a young man trying to become an assistant to a famous composer, who is now old and blind.
If you’re looking for something different from a standard novel, try “Cloud Atlas.”
(FYI — The Guardian has a really excellent piece that explains the book much better than I ever could, if you’re interested in more information.)
**Breaking news as of 9/14, apparently a cast has been partially announced for the forthcoming film of this novel, which I’m sure will be beautifully done and only slightly confusing. However, Tom Hanks and Natalie Portman, sha-zam! Check out the rest at The Book Case: A Superstar Cast for Cloud Atlas**