Title: Cloud Atlas
Author: David Mitchell
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: 2004
Genre: Adult literary
Source: Birthday present
Buy the Book: Cloud Atlas
There are some books that are beautiful in their simplicity.
And then there is Cloud Atlas, which is complicated and intertwined, and still manages to be gorgeous and engaging and compelling all at the same time.
I saw the movie on my birthday in late October, and fell in love. A few days later, I had the book. I just finished reading it today. Granted, I read two books in between, but still. This isn’t the kind of book you devour in a day or two. It’s a sipping kind of story. It can’t be skimmed and your attention can’t wander, or you’ll miss something important.
Cloud Atlas is six novellas, set in six different time periods (from the 19th century to the distant future.) The first half of each story is told, from the oldest to the newest, which is told in full, and then the second half of the others follows from the most recent and ending in the past. Each story is so masterfully woven with the others that it’s kind of breath taking.
One of my favorite things about Cloud Atlas is the language. Mitchell started with the very formal, almost stilted language of the 19th century, through to a strange, difficult dialect of the far future. While the dialect in the futuristic part is difficult to read, it was still fascinating and the story it told was worth the time it took to decipher.
The way the stories tied together was so well done. The book itself mimicked the symphonic Cloud Atlas that one of the characters wrote, intertwining up through time and then back down. The lives of the characters from each story impacted the lives of the characters from the next. It would have been easy for this book to come across as gimmicky
or contrived, but instead it reads like an incredible puzzle the author is inviting the reader to unravel.
I fell so deeply in love with the film version of Cloud Atlas that I was a little afraid that reading the book would ruin it for me. I’d heard that there were differences. (There were.) I wasn’t disappointed though, and I’m actually looking forward to watching the movie again, now that I’ve read the book. The far-future part was my favorite in the movie, but not in the book. The Somni story was my favorite part of the book, by far.
One interesting thing. The movie made a much bigger deal about the idea that the characters were actually reincarnations. That doesn’t come through as strongly in the book. It’s there, sort of, but the movie actually uses the same actors for each part. I’m not sure that was necessary, except that otherwise there would have been a gigantic cast and using the same actors sort of reigned the story in.
Over all Cloud Atlas, the movie and the book, is one of my favorite stories this year.