CLOUD ATLAS by David Mitchell
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This review is from: Cloud Atlas: A Novel (Kindle Edition)With plot (!), character and structures ably covered elsewhere, this review is about my experience of David Mitchell's CLOUD ATLAS. I was curious when I started and weeping when I finished. In between, taken heart and soul. Resonating in the background were some of my favorite reading experiences: The majesty and moral character of Melville's MOBY DICK. The gimlet eye and heartbreaking hindsight of Michener's HAWAII. The rich, musical ethos of Elise Blackwell's AN UNFINISHED SCORE. The hardboiled cunning of Elmore Leonard's OUT OF SIGHT. The chilling resonance of George Orwell's 1984. The bleak dystopian vision of Cormack McCarthy's THE ROAD.
Each of the six worlds in CLOUD ATLAS vividly awakened sense memories, books, music, movies, conversations, experiences. The nesting doll metaphor is apt for the structure of the novel itself but doesn't talk about the air in between where a willing reader will feel his/her own personal past and future. This is one of those rare books capable of drawing you in on that level.
The writing craft is fine, and I mean *fine* fine, as in particularly, specifically, exquisitely made. The range and depth of voices is spectacular; I experienced only a few moments of dialogue fatigue. The storytelling is entertaining and pace-conscious with philosophizing that feels more conversational than preachy. The concept is brilliant without being overworked or parlor-tricky. The infrastructure of the story is a balls-out astonishing accomplishment.
I've actually had CLOUD ATLAS on my TBR pile for several years. A review copy was sent to me when the book was originally published, but it's a big book, and I'm always pressed for time. This week, in the hospital for a hysterectomy, I downloaded it to my iPhone because I want to see the movie as soon as I'm up and able. In a weird way, I feel like the book called to me at a rare moment when I was quiet enough to receive it, and I'll always be grateful for that.
In the final amazing chapter, Adam, with whom, appropriately, we began the journey, takes us to its resolution, forcing us to despair at the utter darkness, then showing us a redeeming beam of light.
Reflecting on all this, Adam says, "A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this is a life worth living."
Of course, I was already having that same thought about the world my children live in, and as he translated his good intentions into a pragmatic plan of action, I could see myself doing the same. As flaky as this sounds, I felt a sort of rebirth in this story of transmigrating souls, and Lord, I hope that's not just painkillers talking, because I want to take that better self with me into the future. I will. I already have.
Bottom line: It's a beautiful, ambitious, spiritual wrecking ball of a book. Probably not for cynics, speed-readers or fundamentalists. Highly recommending for old hippies, young hipsters, anyone open to having their soul stirred and mind blown.
A footnote: The Kindle version is one of those sloppy conversions publishers did hastily when ebooks became the thing after 2007ish. Shame on Random House for marring this author's transcendent work with those shoddy production values. But transcend it did. I can't bring myself to deduct a star for the numerous technical errors and anomalies.