It occurred to me recently that I almost never recommend books on this blog, even though I'm an avid reader and typically finish a new book about once a week. I have lots of old favorites that I reread regularly, but it's rare that I find a new book or author that really appeals to me. Last week I purchased a copy of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and it turned out to be one of the best fiction novels I've read in a long, long time. This book is brilliant!
The setup of the novel is clever, although a bit confusing at first. There are bits and pieces of stories set up like a puzzle that must be solved to make sense of everything. There are characters from different times and places that are all interconnected despite their profoundly different lives (a young man aboard a 19th century whaling ship in the south Pacific, a college aged journalist investigating a corporate cover up from the 1970's, a genetically engineered worker female clone from sometime in the future, a post-apocalyptic man in the distant future living a primitive sort of life in the mountains of Hawaii, and others) they are all connected and are basically the same soul, connected through time and space. Each story is told in it's own character's unique voice, and the way the whole thing ties together by the end is nothing short of amazing. Some of the passages are simply beautiful and insightful, and the story is an incredible journey back and forth through time.
This is not a quick read (or it shouldn't be) and must be read carefully to understand what is happening. In fact, I was fairly confused until the middle, when the stories recommenced in reverse order and all of the peices fell into place. David Mitchell is a genius, and goes right to the top of list of new favorite authors. Four stars!!!
The movie version of Cloud Atlas was just released here in the US, starring Tom Hanks. I've heard that the movie is excellent, but as always, I would recommend reading the book first. Here is a passage I love that seems to sum up the book quite well, with it's theme of rebirth and reincarnation:
"...I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o' that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an' tho' a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud an' so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud's blowed from or who the soul'll be 'morrow? Only Sonmi the east an' the west an' the compass an' the atlas, yay, only the atlas o'clouds."