Warning: This post was published more than 11 years ago.
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I’ve just finished this book, and it certainly soars to levels far above anything else I’ve read lately. It has a wonderful central message, which is continually revisited and all brought together nicely at the end, and the quality and style of the language over hundreds of years is spot-on.
The book is essentially constructed of six smaller books, each interrupted at a crucial moment in their story – one even midsentence – and returned to again later. The story spans from the 1800s right through to a distant future, with each of the different small books being about a different time period, and written in the style of that time period. Because of this, the book could have been enormously gimicky, and been very poorly written, but it wasn’t. Mictchell clearly has the amazing talent required to construct such a story of such amazing ambition, and to transcend both styles and genres.
Whilst this is a marvellous book in itself, it reminded me of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller in several respects, especially since both are essentially collections of stories-within-stories. However, whilst Traveller was an excellent novel, Cloud Atlas is far more accessible, and much more of a populist novel that one can just sit down, read, and enjoy, whilst still maintaining a number of worthy themes and messages. This is accessible literature, but not a trashy Dan Brown airport read.
Cloud Atlas is a very clever novel; in fact, it is so clever that you end up forgetting just how clever it is, and just run along with the story. There aren’t many writers about who can achieve this delicate balance of being smart whilst resisting the temptation to show off and overshadow their own story. That said, I found the first 100 pages or so quite hard going, as I tried to get used to the format of being cut-off mid-flow with no immediate explanation, and leaping from Dan Brown to 19th century America is a fair leap. Still, once you get into this book, you won’t come out until you’ve finished.
I highly recommend this book, and if you haven’t already got a copy, I suggest you get hold of one (and there’s no better way of doing that than by using the new-style Amazon link to the right) and start reading, because you won’t be able to stop.