Updated on May 19, 2015
5. ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell
When people ask me about my favourite book, I usually come up with some sort of distraction so that I don’t have to answer them. “Oh, well, it’s probably… Look over there! It’s EL James! Let’s sprint in the opposite direction!” For me, choosing is pretty much impossible, but I think if you held me down and forced me to pick one, on pain of setting my entire collection alight, I would probably say ‘Cloud Atlas’.
This was my second time reading this book and it was no less amazing this time around. The fact that I rarely reread books at all should stand as some kind of testament to this one. Of course, the first time I read ‘Cloud Atlas’,I had the novelty factor, that fantastic feeling I get when I’m reading David Mitchell, when I don’t understand what’s going on but I go with it anyway because I know it’s going to be incredible. Reading number two was great in a different way: I knew what was coming and I was still excited to read it.
The book is divided into six separate stories, set at very different times, from a ship sailing around the Pacific in the 1800s, to a distant and unrecognisable future. In the first half of the book the first half of each story is told, and then they are all concluded in the second half, in the style of a sort of literary Russian doll.
Each of the stories are subtly connected together, but the overarching idea is that of reincarnation. A character might have a memory from an earlier time (which we have already read about), or notice a similarity between a birthmark they have and one mentioned in an old diary they happen to be reading. Written down in this way, this idea can come across as a bit trite but, trust me, David Mitchell pulls it off with incredible skill, depth and emotion.
I find that the stories just get better and better as the book progresses – my favourite has to be The Orison of Sonmi~451 – but they are all strong. As the reader, you’re drawn very quickly into each story and then Mitchell yanks the rug out from under you and plunges you straight into another, which you fall in love with just as quickly. Each one builds on what has come before so that, by the time you reach the middle of the book, you have the weight of this semi-fictional, semi-real world behind you, and you can begin the satisfying second half of the book in which all of the stories conclude.
This book is probably, maybe, almost certainly my favourite book because of Mitchell’s huge ambition, diverse writing style and – let’s face it – creative genius.
“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.”
This was the first book I ever read by David Mitchell and I was sold on him instantly. I’ve since read others by him – all excellent – but this remains my favourite. ‘Ghostwritten’ is a close second.
I wanted to reread this one, partly because the movie is out and I wanted to remind myself of the story before seeing it on the big screen. As it happens, I’m going to see it tomorrow evening. I really hope it’s good!
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?