I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Cloud Atlas (2004) is a composite novel comprised of six different stories, each one set in a different time and place, including Belgium in 1931 and Hawaii in the far future; each one featuring a different protagonist, including a conservative 19th-century American notary and a revolutionary future Korean clone; each one belonging to a different genre, including an epistolary novel and a campfire tale; each one evoking a different mood, including suspense and black comedy; and each one featuring an aptly different style (vocabulary, syntax, and orthography), including an elegant Oscar Wildean British English and a lyrical post-apocalypse transformed English ala Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker. Author David Mitchell's ability to make each story strand and voice unique and convincing is impressive, as is his clever arrangement and compassionate linking of the six stories, which refer backwards and forwards to each other in increasingly meaningful ways.
Tying the whole thing together is a set of potent themes relating to memory, history, story, identity, human nature, civilization, the past, and the future. "The mighty [Edward] Gibbon" and his masterpiece, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, are often referred to and quoted ("History is little more than the record of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind"), and most of Mitchell's inter-nested stories concern the heroic attempt of fallible individuals in a moment of crisis to try to make a better future by standing up for another person or for themselves or for the truth and so defusing the default predatory human mode of greed, will to power, and cruelty. In short, the novel is about the growth of the human soul in eras and cultures inimical to it.
The following excerpts from the novel demonstrate its richness and range of voices:
"My eyes adjusted to the gloom & revealed a sight at once indelible, fearsome & sublime. First one, then ten, then hundreds of faces emerged from the perpetual dim, adzed by idolaters into bark, as if Sylvan spirits were frozen immobile by a cruel enchanter. No adjectives may properly delineate that basilisk tribe! Only the inanimate may be so alive."
"I've manipulated people for advancement, lust, or loans, but never for the roof over my head."
"I saw my first dawn over the Kangwon-Do Mountains. I cannot describe what I felt. The Immanent Chairman's one true son, its molten lite, petro-clouds. His dome of sky. . . Why did the entire conurb not grind to a halt and give praise in the face of such ineluctable beauty?"
"In my new tellin', see, I wasn't Zachry the Stoopit nor Zachry the Cowardy. I was jus' Zachry the Unlucky'n'Lucky. Lies are Old Georgie's vultures what circle on high lookin' down for a runty'n'weedy soul to plummet'n'sink their talons in, an' that night at Abel's Dwellin', that runty'n'weedy soul, yay, it was me."
"What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable, to possess as it were an atlas of clouds."
Perhaps the thriller story feels odd-man-out by having the only third person narration and generally seeming less convincing than its fellows (though I suspect that may partly be Mitchell's point). The intimations of reincarnation glimpsed in most of the stories sit a bit uncomfortably with me. In the brave new corprocratic dystopia of Mitchell's first future, I'd think that more likely brand names would become nouns than "fords" for cars and "sonys" for computer/smart phones (though "starbucks" for coffee and "nikes" for tennis shoes sure sound right). And because the stories of Cloud Atlas progress from the past to the future and back again, each ending in mid-crisis on the way forward, I found the first half of the novel when I had no idea what kind of story would start in each new section more intriguing than the second when the aborted stories conclude, albeit suspensefully.
The six readers (four male, two female) of the audiobook are mostly quite good, especially Simon Vance as Robert Frobisher and John Lee as Timothy Cavendish, both men relishing Mitchell's spot on articulate, brilliant, cynical, educated British English for those two characters, and Cassandra Campbell was perfectly dignified, resigned, and hopeful as Sonmi-451.
At one point, Mitchell's disinherited young British bisexual composer writes to his soul mate about Cloud Atlas, his "sextet for overlapping soloists, piano, clarinet, cello, flute, obo, violin, each in its own language of key, scale and color. In the first set each solo is interrupted by its successor. In the second each interruption is continued in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?" This obviously describes the novel. So is it revolutionary or gimmicky? I think it falls between those two poles, being too coherent to be revolutionary and too well-written and heart-felt to be gimmicky.
an amazing novel
The way it carries an interesting theme through hundreds of years.
Replace Scott Brick, every sentence read by him is too dramatic.
From Austen to zombies!
There are numerous descriptions of the structure of this book, so I'll skip the details and just say there are six different stories, all set in different times, but interconnected, and each is read by a different narrator.
The narration alone made this book worth a listen. It starts with Scott Brick--one of my favorites, although I know some people don't like him as much as I do. But the other narrators are good too, particularly the one in the middle, longest section (sorry, don't know which one he is), who reads in a futuristic sort of Hawaiian pidgin.
All the stories are at least engaging, and all but a couple are fun, with humorous moments. In each case it's as if someone is reading to you, or just telling you a story, perhaps to kill time while traveling, or at a boring party, or maybe around a campfire.
That's the power of this book: there are so many stories in the world, and so many are connected.
I do wonder if some of the stories could stand well on their own. One or two of these wouldn't have been as good without the framework. Together, though, they make a good experience. All were suspenseful; while I didn't care about every single character I did want to know what happened to them all. And the characters that I did care about stayed with me for days after listening.
So I wouldn't say this is the greatest novel of all time. But I do recommend it for the light it throws on the messy, sad, funny, happy human experience.
I like horror, science fiction, transgressive writing, and some nonfiction.
This is an amazing book with so much going on. It really is well worth a read.
Me, myself, and I.
I think my headline says it all. After spending such an indescribably wonderful time in the universe of Cloud Atlas, I have emerged with the understanding that I can't add anything to what has been written before.
This was a transcendent experience. The story structure could have been a gimmick. The various genres could have been a mess. The relative looseness of all of this could have been silly. None of that happened. Instead, David Mitchell has crafted a book that has everything I could have possibly asked for. It has six interlocking stories, each with its own merits and fascination. The end of the story, when I thought it would finish with a wimper (although a great wimper!), finished strong, bringing home the entire reason the novel exists. It was this finish that left me wholly satisfied.
Among the best books I've ever experienced. I cannot recommend it any more than I am trying here. Just read it, listen to it, experience it. You will not be disappointed.
The nice thing about this book is that each story is very different, in a different genre and narrative voice. If you have a wide range of tastes in types of fiction, you'll love this. Historical, comical, detective, science fiction, post-apocolyptical, there are samples of each. The connections between the stories are clever, but nothing to get hung up on. If you have a poor memory, then picking up the thread of the earlier stories might be difficult for you. I had no problem with it, despite the fact that my listening was broken up into may small sessions. I also believe the narrators are some of the best in the business and enjoyed the all-star cast.
I read nothing that is popular.
If you are reading "Cloud Atlas" before you decide to see the movie, you really need to pay attention in what is going on because the six different story is hard to understand on how they intertwined together. The stories are a bit hard to follow because it flashes back and forth with each of their characters and their situations, but once you get through the first part of their tales, you will start noticing the bond between their stories.
Cloud Atlas is not the greatest book that I have ever read because the author jumps ships too often. He tells us something to get our interest and all of a sudden, starts something new. I don't think that Cloud Atlas is well told, but just "okay." If the movie follows the story line of the book, I won't be taking a restroom break in between the showing.
I wanted to know more about Sonmi and the sci fi story because that part of the book was most interesting to me. I don't regret at getting this book because I am looking forward to the movie, but I just wished it had a easier pace of storytelling.
This book doesn't have a steady flow.
Coffee and a Book Chick
I'm sure this is better in print or on the big screen... If you are like me and do a lot of errands, or go for a run when listening to an audiobook, than this might not be for you. I love science fiction, but this was just much too challenging to listen to. With six interconnected stories, each has its own narrator, which is fantastic, however each tale is simultaneously unique and challenging to comprehend. There is a specific way each narration is delivered, and depending on the time period of the story, it can either be 1800s prose or a completely made-up dialect that was painful to listen to and translate. I would not recommend this book if you like to do other things while you are listening. There were some moments within each tale that piqued my interest and engaged me for a little while, but then it switched to the next tale and I was left with trying to get used to the way it was written yet again.
However, I did enjoy the stories for Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish. The others, especially Zachry's tale, were just painful to listen to.
Excellent narration! I watched the movie afterwards and it stunk. The audio book easily ties all the story lines together and the different voices and accents make it difficult to put down.
Unique. I've never read (Listened to) anything like it.
The guy in the old folks home was hilarious from the start. I replayed parts from this section over and over and kept laughing.
It was an experience. You have to listen to this audio to get the whole deal. Better than ANY movie I've seen in the past year.
SKIP THE MOVIE AND THE BOOK........this one was MADE for audio!
David Mitchell can seriously write. It's like 6 mini-novelas with the slightest undercurrent of a theme running through all of them. Each story is so unique from the others presented, and so well done, it's hard to imagine that they're all contained in one book. Other reviewers cautioned against trying to listen haphazardly to this one, I think that's sage advice. But I didn't find it difficult to follow as long as I paid attention. It's funny, poignant, serious and intense, all wrapped into one. This is one I will listen to again.