Cloud Atlas absolutely terrified me before starting. I’m a Mitchell newb and had heard he could be difficult, but rewarding. Once I saw the trailer for the movie, I knew I had to read this book because there’s no way I’m missing the film. So I hunkered down and got started.
Mitchell’s novel doesn’t have a coherent plot – it has 6 of them. Six short stories/novellas make up the narrative of Cloud Atlas, all nestled inside one another like nesting dolls – literally. You read through the first half of five stories, then get the sixth in full, before jumping back in to finish the five previous. You could get dizzy if Mitchell didn’t accomplish this feat with so much genius.
Mitchell does so much right. The stories are varied, realistic, and span many genres – all very convincingly written. Of course, they are expertly interconnected and each time one of the connections comes to light my heart did a little pitter-patter at the thought and creativity that went into this novel. Thematically, the story is just so relevant. We see worlds led by greedy, power-hungry collectives and the small time citizens who are doing their best to overcome. We root for the connectivity of people, places, and times and the continued struggle to overcome oppression. Cloud Atlas is a novel with a past, present, and future and a message of hope.
But Mitchell is only human and humans aren’t perfect. While I speedily read through the first half, section six felt like hitting a brick wall. Not because the story is bad – no, the story is still superb if you can only get past the broken English dialect the entire 70 or so pages is written in. Perhaps we’re meant to slow down here – that Mitchell has some purpose in making his middle so daunting. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see past the difficulty to find such a purpose. Perhaps that’s just my small brain’s problem, who knows? I also found the latter half of each story to be rather anti-climactic probably because my expectations from the first half had grown exponentially. And there was a certain story where every other word seemed new to me and I had to have a dictionary close at hand.
Do I think you should read Cloud Atlas? Absolutely, if for no other reason than I’m not sure how the movie will make any sort of coherent sense without the source material. But the trailer looks amazing and seems to really have captured the heart of the novel. In my opinion, Mitchell’s novel and probably his entire back list will likely be taught in college campuses all around the world before too long. His writing just has such an ‘instant classic’ vibe. Can’t wait to pick up another book by him soon! Any recs?