Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you've followed my reviews for a while, you'll have noted my lament that modern literature has little to offer the bibliophile; that modern authors churn out inch-deep pap to satisfy the trade paper crowd and their editors, and that the art of storytelling has been left in the mostly-inept hands of Hollywood screenwriters.
This book is the exception to all my sneering at modern literature, or what passes for it. David Mitchell has written a modern classic in CLOUD ATLAS, a sweeping, stunning, deep dive of a book that will leave a discerning reader gasping with recognition and finding connections within the stories long after finishing a first reading.
CLOUD ATLAS opens in the maritime 1850s, breaks off abruptly and jumps to a musician's home in 1930s Belgium, picks up again in troubled coastal California in the 1970s, then to postmodern Korea in a near-distant future, and finally post-apocalyptic Hawaii several centuries from now-- and then all the stories fold back inward in the reverse order. The characters are different in each subplot, but there are common threads, common themes, memories, struggles, incidents, major and minor similarities that tie superficially disjointed narratives very closely together, but in such a subtle way that one must read with the mind of a problem-solver in order to put the pieces together and discover what has really happened: to the world, to the characters, to time.
Some of the criticism postulates that the stories are too loosely connected. If that's the impression you've come away with, you are not reading closely or carefully enough. Nearly every detail foreshadows or calls back to another element, underscoring the profound theme of interconnectedness throughout time.
Mitchell's writing reminds me of another favorite writer with a similar ability to appeal to the masses while putting another level of material much deeper for those who wish to mine it, and the spark of recognition when one does find the jewel within is one of the sublime experiences of reading truly good writing. There are elements here of historical fiction, suspense, science fiction, romance, drama, intrigue -- but above and beyond it all, beautifully written, poetic prose that never speaks down to the reader.
Well done, David Mitchell. You have changed my mind and restored my faith in the ability of a cerebral contemporary writer to create something worth spending weeks reading and re-reading. This is, quite simply, a masterpiece. If you enjoy challenging, classic literature that will astonish you, make you think, re-think, question, and discuss, please make this one of the next books you pick up.
View all my reviews