Talking about the best book I read in the past month.
By David Mitchell
Random House, 2004; 509 pages.
I buy too many books in general, but I always have a particular urge to buy thick books. Somehow, I feel more justified spending money on a 600-page novel than on a 125-page collection of short stories. Thus, I was delighted to find a copy of Cloud Atlas at the biannual Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library book sale (aka the greatest event in Charlottesville) for a mere $1.
I have been wanting to read this novel for a long time, particularly after I enjoyed Mitchell’s most recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, last year. I was also partially motivated by the release of the movie, which I still haven’t seen, and now I’m not so sure I want to see it. Because now I’m afraid that the film would spoil my memory of the book.
Cloud Atlas is a sprawling and fragmented novel, split up among various narrators in different places and historical eras. Essentially, Mitchell displays his profound talent for voices — voices in the sense of appropriating people. Every section could have been written by an entirely different, talented author, and yet every section bears this tight, dependent relationship with all of the other sections. It is an impressive feat and I don’t know how he did it.
Lately, I’ve been tired of novels that use this form (chapters each with their own separate narrators; e.g., The Imperfectionists), but Mitchell does it SO WELL that there is no reason to complain. None at all. Recommended!