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Freewheeling Andy

David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas

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I bought this on the basis of the name alone, and the fact that it was half-price and looking prominent as I walked into Waterstones on Gower Street, a few months ago.

 

It was a good thing that I hadn't spotted that it had crept on to the Richard & Judy Book Club thingy, because it would have driven me away, running and screaming.

 

Which would have been the wrong thing to do.

 

The book is an amazing layered onion of stories within stories within stories, moving forward in time, and then backwards again, bookending each other. I found it an ingenious and thoroughly worthwhile mechanism, not just the pretentious nonsense that you usually get with postmodern writing devices.

 

I think it works because each of the stories is, itself, a proper, interesting, well written story, and easy to read.

 

The book starts as the diary of a traveller in the south pacific in 19th century; moves through the letters of a feckless early 20th century dilletante; on to a 1970s eco-thrillier; and into a hilarious tale of a modern publishing executive; on to a semi-dystopian future world run by the Koreans; and finally into a basically post-apocalyptic world in the distant future. It covers a rise-and-fall-of civilisation, and each of the stories links in to the other stories, often with very similar themes.

 

I can imagine that the plot devices would really wind some people up, and be found to be very annoying, but to me, the book works brilliantly, and explored some very big themes about truth and civilisation without being particularly pompous about it.

 

I heartily recommend it.

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Yes Cloud Atlas is a modern classic all right. Mitchell's sheer imaginative verve is just amazing (and appalling if you're a frustrated writer yourself) - he literally uses up in one novel, six ideas which could have been entire novels in themselves. The boy has talent to burn.

 

Having said that, I did feel that the whole was not really any more than the sum of the parts. The links between the sections - each character is reading or viewing the text of the story before - and between the characters - they all have this birthmark, so they're all (what?) related or reincarnated? - were not particularly strong, and he would have done better I think to leave those out and just let the six stories sit inside one another, and leave us to work out the linking theme of oppression and abuse of power.

 

My preferred summing up phrase for the book when I read it was 'cumulative nimbleness.' Which is, like, an extremely contrived pun, right...

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Hehehe! Lovely pun.

 

I really liked the very contrived but very tenuous connections between the layers. That was, to me, one of the real delights of the book. The connectedness of the stories gave you a pointer to the connected themes. If they'd stood alone it would just be a colleciton of short stories; if the links had been stronger it would have been clunky.

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I loved this book too and will also count is as the best book I have read this year. I agree that the number of different writing styles showed Mitchell to be such a talented writer. He is so imaginative in creating such a variety of worlds and I was especially impressed by his futuristic world and the post apocalyptic world which took a bit of getting your head round due to the colloquial dialogue used to tell the story. I was not expecting the stories to start going backwards again and was so delighted when they did as I had been frustrated when they had cut off in the first half.

 

I will definitely read him again. In fact I keep requesting his latest book Black Swan Green on ReadItSwapIt website. It is set in the 1980s and the character is exactly the age I was at the time. I read an extract in the Guardian and was impressed. I also think it is on the Booker long list.

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I am more than half way through - and enjoying it - peeped in here to find clues about the birthmark thingy - it keep cropping up and I am thinking I missed something.....

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It's possibly the best book I have ever read. It was a huge shock that it failed to win the Booker. My guess was the fact that Chris Smith headed the panel had an influence on the winning book. Un-PC, but what the hell, Cloud Atlas would have won in any other year.

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I know I'm repeating myself (yet again), but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it's the best book of the 21st century so far. Only vaguely challenged by other books by David Mitchell. How it failed to win the booker is beyond me. My only problem with Cloud Atlas is that someone has my copy and I don't know who.

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What's the reading circle?

 

It's a monthly book read on here. People nominate the book they'd like to be read, then everybody votes and that book may be enjoyed by all who then wish to partake

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It's a monthly book read on here. People nominate the book they'd like to be read, then everybody votes and that book may be enjoyed by all who then wish to partake

 

Ok. Thanks. What's the current one?

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We read Lady Chatterley's Lover for July and we're going to be reading Anne of Green Gables for August.

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Meanwhile, I think I'd nominate Cloud Atlas for Sept - As PDR says, it will be fun to read and discuss.

 

Oooh... I'll have to read it again. I don't often re-read a novel (there's too many unread books to read), but I'll happily make an exception for this one!

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