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Book Review - Cloud Atlas

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

About a year ago, this book was being trumpeted as the next ‘big’ thing. So just recently, I got round to reading it, to see what the fuss was about.

The book contains six stories, which are separate in setting, time, plot and genre yet still linked to each other in a number of different ways. The six stories all begin then break off abruptly as the next one kicks in. After the sixth story has finished (this being in the middle of the book it goes straight though to its conclusion without breaking off) the others carry on where they left off. This interesting format has been likened to a matrioshka doll. Basically if you give every story a letter it goes like this: A B C D E F E D C B A.

The stories begin with a sea voyage set in the 19th Century, written as a passenger’s journal. The second story is told in letters written in the 1930s by a musician who makes extra money by stealing and selling his employer’s book collection, which is how he comes to read the first half of a diary about a voyage at sea (see how this works?). The third story is a detective novel set in the 1960s (our sleuthing heroine becomes enchanted by the music written by our friend in story two) and the fourth is the script for a film (watched by the main character from story five). Stories five and six are set in the future and link together in a similar way. Some stories link to more than one of the others and there is a common motif running through them all.

So it’s a complex, clever structure. I was happier with the physical way the stories are presented than with some of the links between them, which felt a bit clunky at times.

Each story is written in a different way, using a variety of character dialects and narrative styles. Some are more gripping than others but I would expect all readers to have their favourite parts of the book.

There is a common theme running through the book: mankind’s lust for power and the consequences of this. At least, that’s the message I heard when reading it. One could say that this felt a bit unsubtle too but many books challenge us or invite us to ponder certain issues.

It’s different, it’s readable and while it wasn’t as wonderful for me as I’d expected after all the hype, it’s worth a look.


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Book Review - Cloud Atlas

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