Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I started seeing trailers for Cloud Atlas and thought, now here’s a movie I’d like to see (cuz, hey, Tom Hanks), but being a book nerd, I wanted to read it first. So I did.

Funny thing was, I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, or at least tried to. Much of the beginning seemed familiar. Thanks to a recent beach weekend with some girlfriends, I found the uninterrupted period of time necessary to sink into this book and become invested in it enough to commit to finishing it. (Did I feel out of place, lounging by the pool with this book while almost every other literate woman was lusting over 50 Shades of Grey? Did they feel my snobby disdain rolling off me in hot waves? Ehh, who cares, cuz there were also jello shots and MARGARITAS!)

I read some jokes online comparing Cloud Atlas to the Kevin Bacon game. I see that. Also, a critique on the book jacket from Michael Chabon called it a series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes. Those are both apropos. To me, it was a mountain with a series of plateaus on the way to the peak. There are six short stories. The first one starts in the 1800s. Each new story progresses through time until the sixth story which is set in the future after the fall of modern civilization. Each of the first five short stories stops in the middle at the height of action and leaves the plot hanging, hence the plateau. I reached the plateu only to see I had to start climbing all over again. This is why it took me a while to get into the book. The fifth short story is the peak. It begins and ends with no interruption, and then it’s a pretty fast slide down the other side of the mountain, picking up the same short stories in reverse chronology and finishing them from where they left off.

Each story is related to the one before it (or after it, once you’ve summited the peak). This is where the nesting doll metaphor comes in. The first story is a journal. The second story is a series of letters in which the author references reading the journal that was the previous story. The third story is where we meet the person to whom the letter writer in the second story was writing his letters (blow your mind?) and he befriends a investigative journalist. The fourth story is about a publisher who reads a manuscript that is a detective novel about the investigative journalist in story three. The fifth story has a character who sees the story of the publisher when it is shown to her as slightly comedic movie. The sixth and penultimate story is about post-apocalyptic society who worships the character in the fifth story as a goddess. So, were the other characters real or just characters in someone else’s novel or movie? Ooooh, deep thoughts.

If you’ve been with this blog for a while, you know my pet peeve is to be asked, whatcha readin? by someone who is an obvious non-reader. Woe to any person who asked that question of me while working on this book. Did you just read the two convoluted paragraphs I wrote above? Imagine trying to explain that to someone concisely when you’re pretty sure they’re not that interested in the first place. “It’s a bunch of interrelated short stories.” Now go away and let me finish.

I’ll try to sum up my opinion of Cloud Atlas quickly. Here goes:

I finished it. I liked it. It entertained me and made me think. Mitchell showed talent in cross genre writing (historical fiction, thriller/mystery, comedy, science fiction, post apocalyptic dystopia) It, however, did not rock my world. I didn’t want to hug it and carry it around with me for a few days because of a fear of separation anxiety. Some books have left me feeling that way. This is not one of them. I’m looking forward to the movie. The trailer looks pretty accurate except for the heavy hand on the romance factor. If there was one genre Mitchell put on a strict diet in the book, it was romance. But who is going to waste Halle Berry on a movie with no love story?

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: I may not know why, but I like Cloud Atlas « Songs in Squee Minor

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