I meant to write a post about this book after I finished reading it a few months back but I procrastinated because, to be honest, I was at a loss for words for the sheer brilliance of David Mitchell. I said that I’ll gather my thoughts first because I wanted to come up with a write-up that would at least give justice to it but it’s almost the end of the year but I haven’t written even a sentence. So here I am, beating the (new year) buzzer, because Cloud Atlas is probably my best book for 2014 (I haven’t seriously taken a look at my best reads for the year yet) and it would be lousy not to have a write up for one of the best reads I have for this year, right? So, let me write to the best of my capability and forgive me in advance if all I can come up with in this post will be ravings only.
Cloud Atlas is six inter-related stories of different people spanning time and space. This could be nothing extraordinary if one has already read Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler (I haven’t but I read that these two books have similarities) or other similar novels involving lesser number of stories but the theme on interconnectedness is there (i.e. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad). What impressed me with this book, however, is how each of the stories was written in different styles and genres, and who wouldn’t find himself awed at that? When I started to read the book, I thought that David Mitchell was such a show-off for trying to write in all kinds of genre.
Starting with a 19th century narrative of a notary in the South Pacific as he writes his adventures on a journal (The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing) and then segueing to the 1930s told in the voice of an aspiring musician, epistolary style (Letters from Zedelghem), my eyebrows were already raised, unconvinced. But when I reached the third story (Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery) , which was written in the genre I love best — crime/mystery, I was won over. Rave No.1: Fine, Mr. Mitchell, show off all you want. I’m willing to watch.
In the hands of a novice story-teller, creating six interrelated stories might be ambitious. There is the danger of having written one or two excellent stories while the rest may suffer in quality. But in Cloud Atlas, (Rave No. 2:) David Mitchell was able to make each and every story excellent and weaved them all together seamlessly, there was nothing I could do anymore but sigh in contentment and awe for the sheer brilliance of it all. What is more, each story would stop abruptly and I would be left wondering what happened but as I reached the sixth story (which was the longest and uninterrupted), I found out that the stories continued but in reverse order. My reading buddy, Meliza, put it accurately by saying the stories go like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Rave No. 3: Brilliant, Mr. Mitchell. Absolutely stunning.
The fourth story (The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish) was about an almost septuagenarian publisher set in the present day. This provided the comic relief and I could not count the times I laughed out loud for Mr. Timothy Cavendish. Despite the hilarity, however, his story also exuded the same depth and exploration of the human nature.
The story of Sonmi-451 (An Orison of Sonmi~451)was set in dystopian Korea where human clones co-exist with real humans. The narrative was told in the form of an interrogation. There was action and suspense and romance, and most of all, a touching treatise on consumerism and the human tendency to accumulate wealth at the expense of others.
The last story (Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After) is about Zachry in a post-apocalyptic world as he narrates his days of youth. This story almost drowned me with apostrophes as the narrative was in a language which David Mitchell invented. It was difficult at first to make sense of what Zachry was saying, but once I got the hang of it, I was drawn into Zachry’s world and how he made decisions that will redeem him from the failures of his past. I love this story most of all because of Zachry’s growth from being a coward and reckless young man to a brave old soul who has seen what it is to live in the world where the strong easily preys on the weak.
There were things in the story that I wasn’t able to get entirely (I still do) but the exuberant discussions I had with my reading buddies helped me to understand the story completely. The book concluded with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing and it was ending full of hope, which I really loved. Adam Ewing is my favorite character of all and his story perfectly wraps up this intelligent novel.
Cloud Atlas easily goes into my favorites shelf. It is a story worth reading and David Mitchell is an author I wouldn’t mind fan-girling about. Rave No. 4: David Mitchell, yo da man!
“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.”
My rating: 5/5 stars.