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cloud atlas
a novel by david mitchell • sceptre • 2004

Cloud Atlas is a novel of great scope, imagination, and style. It is broken up into six narratives, each written in a distinct voice; Mitchell tackles the largest of human struggles but couches them in the audience's relationship to story.

How do you relate to stories? Do you read journals? Epistlaries? Pulp novels? Science fiction? All of these types of stories, and a couple others, surface in the novel. If you have read any of the canon in these genres, then you will undoubtedly run across myriad allusions to other works. Myself, I tend toward the sci-fi, so I was happy to see Orwell, Huxley, Dick, Gibson, and even Harry Harrison (who wrote Soylent Green) appropriated by Mitchell. That does not mean, however, that Mitchell is merely a mimic. Mitchell's mimicry is a construct that allows the reader to rise above plot lines and to view the true aspect that binds each of the individual narratives: theme. The first of the narratives takes place in the 1850's on a ship in the South Pacific. The second is set in 1930's Vienna. The third is set in California in the 70's. The fourth takes place probably around present day. The fifth narrative is in the future in Korea. And the sixth is set a couple of hundred years in the future in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. The novel itself is constructed so that the reader is propelled through each of the eras only knowing what happens before the climax of each story. By the time we get to the sixth narrative, we finally have a complete story, and the return course begins. The novel ends back in the 1850's and Mitchell makes no excuses for making our heads spin. Each of these stories deals with similar issues: responsibility to nature, racial inequalities and slavery, corporate greed and corruption, etc. Watching how Mitchell references each narrative while juggling each of the leitmotifs and alluding to previous (and probably better) works is the real joy of this novel. Mitchell attempted to do the same with his auspicious debut Ghostwritten. Yet Ghostwritten seemed like a good idea that was an aruduous task to see to fruition. However, Cloud Atlas seems almost effortless, and I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to anyone, though I must say that I enjoyed his previous novel, Number9Dream, considerably more. (jeremy.04.05)


four stars

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