Book #32

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified dinery server on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation. The narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each others echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

I opened this book knowing I was going to love it. I just knew in my heart of hearts it was going to be nothing but wonderful because all I had heard were stunning adulations over Mitchell's work. Of course I was expecting to join this mob of applauding fans with praise-filled reviews and joyous cheer of my own. Unfortunately Mitchell very quickly burst this little bubble for me, brought me back to the ground with a bump, and taught me an almighty lesson I should've learned from Fifty Shades of Grey: just because everyone else likes it doesn't mean you will too.

The idea here is that Mitchell weaves six different short stories into each other, becoming the master of space and time, and interlinking each one to teach us lessons in reincarnation, the butterfly effect, and all sorts of nonsense like that. The premise is wonderful, very exciting, and somewhat new to me. The problem is that each of the six stories are incredibly weak and mediocre.

After we go through all six charades (I could go into detail, but as soon as this book removes itself from the forefront of my mind, the better), we are treated to them all again in reverse order. This is because David Mitchell is most likely a misanthropic bastard and would like us all to suffer his mundane characters all over again. I had hoped a good number of them would meet an untimely and grotesque demise, but I was disappointed. They were drab. I didn't care for any of them; anything that troubled them or possibly contributed to their misery didn't coax one tiny little feeling inside me. I cared not. Sonmi was the only one I was remotely interested in, and this faded away quickly into her second narrative. Mitchell finishes off the novel with an incredibly trite comment about us all being mere drops in the ocean of life, or something as equally fluffy and pretentious which somehow offended my intellect.

Mitchell's attempt to compose the novel in six different writing styles worked to an extent, and certainly interested me at the outset. I liked the differing ways in which voices were coming across, whether it was diary, letter, interview, or otherwise. Going through this again, backwards and unexpectedly, however, reminded me of an awful rollercoaster ride you are desperate to disembark.

I originally felt stupid for not understanding the hype behind this novel. It is certainly imaginative, challenging, and quite fresh. However, the stories were awful, the characters didn't link very well (a casual mention of something in the previous ordeal section just didn't seem sufficient), and by the time we were on our reverse journey through time and space, I had forgotten everything that had happened the first time around! All the nuances, sub-characters and plot twists meant nothing to me because it had (very dully) happened pages and pages ago. This quite obviously gets worse as you near the end of the novel; the more you delve into the novel, the more unimpressed you become.

This work of Mitchell's is certainly trendy and certainly clever, and I imagine that's the kind of thing people may go for. However, what I tend to go for in a book is something worthwhile and compelling and this simply did not fit the criteria. It was form over substance, and it just didn't work for me.