David Mitchell is an alien. That is the only explanation I can come up with for his chameleon-like writing, combined with the ability to make a plot apparent where the fleeting eye glimpses none. This may also account for Cloud Atlas’ lack of blurb, as well as my own pitiful attempts to review Mitchell’s work – it’s the mind-blocking powers, I tell you!
Cloud Atlas, written in 2004, is a map. No, stay with me. The book maps out the many methods humans use to prey on each other (and not just in the ‘I’m going to suck the juicy ligaments off your bones’ way). The ‘map’ is the six connected stories that the book is composed of.
At first you may be dubious or think that one of the stories will not interest you, but you are wrong.
Each tale can be relished alone. But I warn you: when you reach the final page you realise that whatever you’d supposedly ‘figured out’ halfway through Cloud Atlas was only the shadow of what the book was actually about. This stage may or may not be followed by poking mournfully at the book’s back cover in search for more. Or maybe that’s just me.
Like I was saying, every story is written in a different genre. No, I mean actually written. Mitchell’s language, plot development – his very writing style – changes with every story. I imagine other authors (you know, the ones who churn out the same plot in the exact same way year after year) cower when they see Mitchell approaching.
Unlike those authors and their respective marketing departments, Mitchell does not pander to the dithering masses. He seemingly thrusts us smack-bang in the middle of a narrative, and doesn’t wait for us to figure out the details. I gathered information like it was the currency of the realm, and flipped frantically back and forth between stories to find that one line that will solve the mysteries of the universe. Erm, or at least the mysteries of Cloud Atlas.
While I’m here, I suppose it would be helpful to mention the plot (the lack of a blurb as well as the alien powers meant that I was going in blind, but you, my dearest reader, will not have to). So: the plot contains humour, sci-fi, corporate culture, detective-ness… Ok, I lied about being helpful, didn’t I?
Cloud Atlas spans time; from the 1850s, when some lawyer was crossing the Pacific, to a rambling fireside story spoken by an old bogan several generations after the apocalypse. My favourite part, “An Orison of Sonmi~451”, was the transcript of an interview with a clone created specifically to work at a fast-food restaurant. The dystopian future of Somni was characterised by the country’s worship of the Beloved Chairman, clones as slaves, laws requiring citizens to spend a quota of money every week, and brand names in lieu of general nouns (I would compare this story very favourably with Nineteen-Eighty-Four).
For me, reading Cloud Atlas is akin to discovering that Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree is real. I felt like I had received a present that I hadn’t even known I’d wanted. I felt captivated. I felt intrigued. Like the lands on top of the clouds up the Faraway Tree, not all parts of the book are nice. You will see some things that you hadn’t previously wanted to see. You can be sure however, that these will be presented so exquisitely that the thought of looking away wouldn’t even enter your mind.