A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization: the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.
In his captivating third novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre, and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.
This audiobook is available exclusively as an audio download!
Note to customers: The complicated format of this novel makes it seem that the audio may be cutting off before the end of a story, accompanied by a change in narrator. However, this is the author's intention, so please continue to listen, and the stories will conclude themselves as intended.
©2004 David Mitchell; (P)2004 Random House Audio
"[Mitchell's] exuberant, Nabokovian delight in word play; his provocative grapplings with the great unknowables; and most of all his masterful storytelling: all coalesce to make Cloud Atlas an exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece." (Washington Times)
"[Cloud Atlas] glows with a fizzy, dizzy energy, pregnant with possibility and whispering in your ear: listen closely to a story, any story, and you'll hear another story inside it, eager to meet the world." (The Village Voice)
"A remarkable book....It knits together science fiction, political thriller, and historical pastiche with musical virtuosity and linguistic exuberance: there won't be a bigger, bolder novel next year." (The Guardian)
Initially, I was concerned that I had made a mistake in choosing this book. Some of the reviews made me skittish and the first (of six) parts is quite difficult to listen to because of it's archaic language. In addition, this first part can make you worry that the book isn't going anywhere.
My patience was rewarded for the rest of the book however, and I include the very end-that picks up the tale of this first part again and is much easier to listen to 2nd time 'round.
The readers are all wonderful, but especially the reader of the sixth part. The sixth part also has strange language. But the reader is so good, that I was totally hooked by the second paragraph.
The overall plot was, at first, hard to find. The story is so temporally disorienting that I had to let go for a while and just enjoy the little subplots as they lay. I noticed little gems of connection and filed them away for later.
Then somewhere in the middle, revelation happened and I began to see Mitchell's point: Our past predicts our future, everything is cyclical and EVERYTHING is connected.
That which sails hopefully to an island paradise must later row from it in horror. (I promise that wasn't a plot spoiler in any way) These connections are perfectly nuanced and so finely finessed, that I didn't see them at first. (I suspect this was meant to be; by one of the finest writers of our time.)
I rarely read or listen to a book more than once but I am already looking forward to revisiting this again someday.
School teacher and consumer of mass quantities of books!
This is an outstanding book but mainly if you sit and "read" it. The book is a very complicated read but absolutely amazing if you take the time to actually read it. Listening to it, on the other hand, I found to be extremely difficult. While trying to listen, I found myself rewinding and re-listening to parts constantly causing much frustration and confusion. This book is not really meant for listening pleasure unless your IQ is way above average. If you have time to concentrate on your listen, you may be able to get through it. Once I sat down and read the book, I decided to give it another listen and I found the narrator to be amazing and intriguing. After reading the actual book, I had no trouble listening to it. I actually loved hearing it and got more out of it. If you find yourself unable to listen, sit down and give it a read. You'll Love it!
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
Ironic that I happen to read Cloud Atlas in the same year I read Calvino AND Gibbon's Decline and Fall. All I would have to do is read a little more Melville and perhaps some Jared Diamond and it would be impossible to explain as a mere coincidence. I loved the book. Maybe I'm a pushover for puzzle novels, structural creativity, narrative flourish, thematic clouds, etc., but I really enjoyed every page of Cloud Atlas. I do think this is a strong enough book that it deserves a place on the shelf next to DeLillo or Rushdie. Mitchell took a couple big risks and they paid off fairly well. Not that this is a perfect novel, and it is hard to justify giving it five stars when I also give Dostoevsky and Kafka five stars (certainly they deserve galaxies not stars). I guess the way I look at it is thus - if I read a novel and it makes me want to read another couple novels by the same author it deserves at least 4 stars. If, after reading an author's work, I want to go buy every damn work written - I'm pretty certain that justifies a five star rating
Say something about yourself!
Mitchell (David-not Joni) takes an abstract agenda on a circular trek that arcs over the years with different stories and characters, then curves neatly back and around to completion (because we know a circle has no beginning or ending). The trick is to not keep asking are we they're yet and enjoy the ride, because Mitchell is constantly moving toward a destination, in spite of the feeling that you are zig-zagging all over the place (as well as through time).
As reviewers have already shared, there are 6 stories/narratives that--not so much weave together as--stack upon each other, forming a ring around a central theme. It IS witty and beautifully written and enlightening and humorous...I particularly enjoyed Mitchell's adeptness at becoming a new character and voice in a new era and a new world with each story--a person linked to the past and the future. And, he is a good story teller, one of those that can start a tale and envelop you in the atmosphere as much as the plot. Mitchell is as much an architect and adventurer as a writer, using his words to create and explore.
Some reviewers said they thought Cloud Atlas was a difficult book--an evidentiary case for the audio/Kindle combo option. Having the text was a good tool for those times when I needed 2 or 3 reviews to get on course, but the audio production was so good it heightened the experience. That said, if you can listen without disruption and want a little mind-expanding journey through time, this is not difficult at all...it just is adventurous and outside the box. A puzzle--but one that you can piece together as you go and enjoy the picture as it comes into view.
[*The many reviews here were a helpful guide (especially those that were able to take the advantage of time and add upon early reviews for our benefit on issues like *slow beginning* *abrupt story endings*) and made me appreciate anew the value of listener's sharing their experiences. Reviews I found helpful: Elizabeth/Atlanta; William/Bainbridge; Ryan/Somerville; Karen/Ames; and many more worth reading.]
This is an extremely clever book filled with nuances and devices that would, I think, be better appreciated in the written form; to state the obvious, it's much easier to flip back in a book than it is to scan back on a listening device. But you (who am I kidding, I mean me; it's all about me) feel pretty darned smart while listening to the second half of the book when you find that not only do you really get it, but that you are also able to make "aha" connections between parts early on in the book that made almost no sense at the time. This isn't a mystery (although one of the stories within the book does take the form of a mystery, of sorts) but I often felt as if I would have been better able to keep up with the story if I had been taking notes; then again, that probably would have interfered with my ability to sleep on the subway while listening to some of this book. On an almost entirely positive note, some of the narration is excellent and the fact that the book is split up into six different stories with different narrators makes it very easy on the ear, if a little taxing on the brain.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
One of my favorite books ever, partly because of its unusual structure. Cloud Atlas isn't really a novel in a traditional sense, but six stories nested inside each other. Mitchell writes each vignette in a wildly different setting and style, and offers only the slightest of devices linking each one to the next. There's a 19th century seafaring tale, a sardonic coming-of-age story set in the 30s, a piece after a 1970s suspense paperback, and... well, I won't give away the others. The lack of much direct connection between stories is the sort of choice that some readers will admire and some will think reduces the whole work to an exercise in self-indulgence.
I fall into the former camp. Mitchell has the virtuosity to make his design work, and each character voice, though very different from the preceding one, rings true. I think that readers who are looking for a clever device to tie it all together, obvious closure, or a sense of how seriously the author means us to take his fanciful constructs, are missing the point. I find this be a work that creates a series of impressions, like paintings or tracks on a music album, and lets them float together in the reader's mind, their mood and tone forming moving but elusive connections in the imagination. In this case, the sense of struggle and incompleteness that each story evokes in its turn came across in a way I found beautiful and affecting, even in the way one world gave way to the next without warning. The cyclical structure of the book and its recurring patterns reminded me of Buddhist ideas. Don't try to read Cloud Atlas just for plot, or you'll be disappointed; read it for the writing, conviction, imagery, and artistry.
This is one of the best books I have read in the last few years (and I read more than 100 books per year). The different narrators for each section were excellent and helped distinguish each story. I did find myself reviewing the hard copy of the book as well because the material is so rich, I didn't want to miss anything. Although I normally don't read science fiction, the sections that were science fiction were intriguing because of the way they tied into the remainder of the book. Don't miss it!
This "novel" is really 6 short stories. The gimmick is that the second story starts in the middle of the first and the third starts in the middle of the second and so on. Only the sixth story is complete and then we get the finish of the fifth, fourth, third, second and first stories. The stories occur in the 1840s, 1930s, 1970s, present, 100+ years, 200+ years.
On one level, the author is making his philosophical point that mankind is inheritently greedy and willing to kill and enslave other humans. The ultimate result is a corpocracy that destroys everything as we see in the final two stories.
On another level is a great wordsmith who gives each story a different voice and even a different language while staying true to his message. In the second story, a composer writes to his physicist friend(see third story) that he has conceived a major work which he will call the "Cloud Atlas Sextette." Each of the six parts will be a different instrument and will be interrupted by the next part and finished in descending order by the remaining parts: 12345654321. The composer asks: Is this a conceit or genius? And each listener should probably ask the same question.
The readers are excellent and it is immediately clear which of the six stories is being read. There are a lot of interesting discussion issues raised by this book. I would buy it again but I imagine that many would not really enjoy it.
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.
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.
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