One adjective that I find apt whilst describing this novel is ‘Clever’. Yes, it’s a clever book, not w.r.t. to its contents but its mere structure. For me, reading this book was like reading two volumes which constitutes of reading Cloud Atlas and then reading Cloud Atlas Reviews. Now you see, With Great Books, comes Great Reviews and that’s why I read its thorough analysis by experts as well as regular readers those that are available on internet, that of course to quench my own thirst of completely consuming every nuisance this book has to offer and not being describe by something like this: “Come now, what’s a reviewer?” I reasoned. “One who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely”. I wonder if it was a message from David to the book critics around the world. I can merely hope that I was able to read this book with the wisest level possible for me.
Its composition didn’t astonish me completely may be because I did my homework beforehand but it was certainly something that I haven’t read before. So there are six different stories unfolded through 6 different eras having their own individual cultural building blocks. Now the genius of Mitchell is clearly evident in his prowess of using completely different writing styles in each of the story, which IMO is an impeccable imitation by him. Another master stroke by Mitchell is that on reaching the second story, you start getting the gist of what Mitchell is up to and the curious reader in you has to go ahead without looking back.
So when I started with the first story, I was frustrated to the core with that oh-so-indecipherable English and since I was not able to get emotionally attached with the narrative, it became all the more difficult and led to a lot of digression but I somehow managed to sail through. Afterwards the ride was pretty smooth. I liked the reckless ways of Robert Frobisher, the indomitable spirit of Luisa Rey, the humor in the ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, the mastermind narrative about Sonmi-451 and the naivety displayed on part of Zachry.
In the last story though, a lot of experimentation has been done on part of Mitchell. It’s like he invented a language of his own by mocking the English grammar( For eg: If past tense for Say is Said then why the past tense of think is Thought and not Thinked, Nay *winks*) as well as the contemporary internet slangs with generous use of apostrophes. In fact, I read some parts of that story loudly just to hear how it would sound if brought under practice.
The structure Mitchell employed in this meta-fiction constitutes of interrupting each story abruptly and carrying on a new story having some connection with the previous one (read Incarnation) of the protagonists. Each story is treated this way except the last one which is continued till the end. The central theme is same for all stories that humans can be real jerks when exposed to power, money and superiority and wouldn’t cringe a bit on exploiting or betraying their fellow human beings in order to fulfill their greed. Their selfishness can lead to far disastrous results than one can even imagine. Here, in this novel however, Mitchell did imagine and what an imagination!!!
As a reader, it challenges you from every direction and it would be advisable to have a tight grip on each story in order to avoid the wavering from the main plot of one story or the other, but there are some loopholes.
I am not sure if the idea of incarnation was well executed or even called for. The culture I belong to, there are certain myths that goes around with reference to incarnation, like:
-A person is incarnated if he/she died an untimely death; or
-There is some unfinished business that must be completed in next birth.
But here, none of the characters had anything to do with untimely death or unfinished business
Another grumble is how easily the author gave away certain points within the novel that explained his further plans and also how vocal he became about whether his writing style would be revolutionary or gimmicky, which was kind of annoying. It snatched away from me that Eureka moment I wanted to experience and it somehow conveyed as if he didn’t have much confidence in his readers who won’t be able to understand what he is trying to prove. Authors of his mettle shouldn’t bother with interpretations and let readers decide what they want to render after reading such novels.
So all in all, this book is a 3.5 for me. I must admit that Mitchell is a genius at work with his innovative and unique style. I am surely going read rest of his works, and although cloud atlas was not that enriching experience as I expected it to be, it still stand at an altogether different level and has carved a place for itself amidst thousands of books that world has to offer us.