While I don’t have much free time at the moment as I’m cramming in essays, preparing for an exam and trying to write my dissertation, while also working part-time, when I do get some downtime to myself, I will sometimes opt to read. Now reading is something I’ve always loved doing but now have a difficult relationship with, but when I do get into a book, I’m usually lost to the world. The most recent book I’ve been reading for leisure is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, published in 2004.
“Six interlocking lives – one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, Cloud Atlas erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity’s will to power, and where it will lead us.”
– Quote from the blurb.
I picked this up back in November after my stay in London for my birthday, at the Waterstone’s on the Strand (if my memory serves me correctly), since I had a train trip back home later that morning and nothing to occupy me for the journey. I picked this particular novel up because I had a conversation with a friend a while ago who said she’d read the novel and found it interesting to read. Having also seen the film adaptation, I wanted to read the novel for myself, since I’ve developed a certain interest for adaptations after studying Literary Transformations last year in university.
The novel as the blurb quoted above follows six narratives, from different points in human history – some in the past, and some in the subjective fictional future. These include 20th Century Belgium, a not-necessarily-far-away imagining of Seoul, among other times and settings. The use of six narratives could easily be overwhelming to write and for an audience to keep up with, yet these six stories which could easily be fleshed out as six individual short stories in their own right, interlock and guide the reader through a gripping and fascinating narrative structure. These narratives successfully stand separate yet deeply connected at the same time.
These six narratives also open up to six (and granted many other) interesting characters who in some ways couldn’t be more different, and in others are remarkably similar. While I won’t analyse it here since this could make this post extremely long, the subtle differences and similarities really amazed me, even with my semi-informed knowledge and expectations from having watched the film adaptation – although like any adaptation, creative choices were made so the film is not like-for-like to the novel. I found myself feeling attached to characters who I normally would think little of – Robert Frobisher is one character that comes to mind: he’s an extreme narcissist yet his vulnerability and human imperfections make him forgivable even when I don’t want to.
I’m rarely moved by books, my expectations being too high and my university analytical mindset usually kicks in and spoils reading for me (I might write a post about how my degree has injured the bookworm in me), yet this novel entertained and also deeply moved me. Somehow I got passed this automatic programming in my head to deconstruct every possible word choice and analyse the relationships between characters, etc and managed to just enjoy the novel. There were times when I would roll my eyes at the humour, other times when I would squeeze my arm with nervousness, and other times when I felt myself tearing up.
Something about Mitchell’s style as a writer, his ability to write within multiple genre conventions and styles within one novel (something I might write a separate post about when I’m done studying) to create an imagined semi-realistic, semi-fantastical future somehow managed to win me over. While certain narratives were harder for me to read than others – I immediately think of the ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After‘ narrative as the most difficult to read from my experience – I really enjoyed reading this novel. It has inspired me to enjoy reading again like I used to before I started my degree, which is something that over the past year or so of studying, I didn’t think I would be able to say again.
This novel is a fantastic book to read whether you’re an enthusiastic bookworm or a casual reader. While some of the writing style may seem intimidating at first – Adam Ewing’s narrative made me reread sections at times – it is a remarkably well-written novel, and worth every moment of downtime that I spent reading it.
How was this post as my first attempt at writing a book review? I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is very different from the kind of content I normally write, but I want open my blog a bit to other hobbies of mine. Thank you for taking the time to read my post. It really means a lot to me.