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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas (2004)

by David Mitchell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
13,464556265 (4.12)4 / 1256
  1. 120
    If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: Different yet both well-written approaches to meta-fiction.
  2. 112
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (pgmcc)
    pgmcc: Really enjoyable set of related stories with the author's well deomonstrated skill
  3. 81
    The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (TomWaitsTables, PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: A theme of reincarnation used to balance Karma flows through the story.
  4. 40
    Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (PghDragonMan)
  5. 84
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (jbvm, souloftherose)
    jbvm: Without giving anything away, after you've read both you'll understand my recommendation.
    souloftherose: Both novels are occasionally experimental in style with interconnected short stories. They are also both very good.
  6. 40
    The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (JenMDB)
  7. 51
    Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (Rynooo, browner56, pfeldman)
    browner56: Highly imaginative works, particularly the phonetic recreations of the English language
  8. 40
    Number9Dream by David Mitchell (PghDragonMan)
  9. 30
    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (JenMDB, sturlington)
    sturlington: Both have unusual narrative structures and explore the theme of reincarnation.
  10. 20
    Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru (Tinwara)
  11. 31
    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (novelcommentary)
  12. 21
    The Children of Men by P. D. James (JenMDB)
  13. 32
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Anonymous user)
  14. 10
    TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (suniru)
  15. 32
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (generalkala)
    generalkala: Similar multi-strand, multi-era novel.
  16. 10
    The Islanders by Christopher Priest (tetrachromat)
  17. 10
    Girl Reading by Katie Ward (rarm)
    rarm: Girl Reading isn't as intricately constructed as Cloud Atlas, but both books use linked stories to carry a theme through the centuries and into the future.
  18. 10
    The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson (Anonymous user)
  19. 10
    The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: For those interested in disparate yet intertwining narratives of a somewhat fantastical nature.
  20. 00
    Join by Steve Toutonghi (47degreesnorth)

(see all 31 recommendations)


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English (539)  Dutch (6)  French (3)  German (3)  Spanish (2)  Finnish (1)  Czech (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (556)
Showing 1-5 of 539 (next | show all)
I enjoyed the mystery and science fiction sections the most, but I can't figure out if he's laughing with me, or at me. ( )
  GratzFamily | Aug 9, 2018 |
I found this in a charity bookshop three years ago. I had heard that Cloud Atlas was considered a book that divided opinions and was curious where I would fall on this divide, considering I loved reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, with its wonderful, lyrical, crisp and crystal-clear prose. Well, now I know.

Despite the best intentions and an open mind, I just couldn't get into this one, and I tried, I mean really tried. This is an ambitious and audacious literary experiment, and it simply doesn't work for me. The writing is all over the place, the characters are unlikeable and unrelatable, and the depicted events just so dull that I didn't give a fig about what happened next. From what I've read in reviews, this isn't the point of the book, but I'm afraid I can't take one without the other. ( )
  passion4reading | Jul 29, 2018 |
This is the rare book so awful that i will not finish it.

In Chapter one, the author pretends to be Kipling, picking up ALL the racism and NONE of the charm. I got so mad I threw the book across the room. Hard to know, from this limited reading (I only made it about seven pages in) whether this is a case of a racist author hiding his racism behind a thin veneer of pretend racism, or whether its a not-racist-but-seriously-how-did-you-not-notice this author just innocently pretending to be kipling, so I tried the next chapter.

In chapter two, the author pretends to be Wilde, but still has no charm, and also has no wit, which just leaves a hollow shell made of garish twiddle. It's awful.

I didn't make it through that chapter, either, and at this point, if there was going to be a good story made of these parts, I'm missing too many parts due to my disgust over the writing to get it, so I'm out. ( )
  Kesterbird | Jul 23, 2018 |
Cloud Atlas is all plot and scene, no character. If you can figure out what is motivating the comet-birthmark character throughout all the incarnations, you get a gold star. ( )
  bexaplex | Apr 29, 2018 |
I saw the trailers for the movie Cloud Atlas a few years back but never saw the film. In 2016 I read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and found it to be intriguing and engaging. It wasn't my favorite book of the year and I had some problems with it but I generally enjoyed it enough to be willing to give Mitchell's work some additional attention in the future. Cloud Atlas was written about a decade before Bone Clocks and someone mentioned to me that even though they can't be necessarily thought of as a "series" in terms of plot or the one being a sequel to another, they are related in terms of some of the structure (and even allusions to theme and character). So, I decided to give Cloud Atlas a whirl.

One of the first things a reader should know going into Cloud Atlas is that it is an ambitious read and one that will potentially frustrate and confuse while working through the entire novel. It's not that it's a difficult novel but rather it's that Mitchell has built the novel as a structure of 6 different novellas and most of those novellas are broken into two parts. Often the break point for the novellas happen in undesirable (for the reader) locations. In fact, the first novella ends mid-sentence. Of course, this is intentional on the part of the author and works to put the reader off balance. It certainly works but unfortunately (at least for me), the effect of being thrown off balance wasn't entirely beneficial to my approval of the book as a whole.

Taken on their own merit, the individual novellas/narratives aren't anything amazing. To a certain degree the stories felt like somewhat expected tropes for their given setting/genre. Don't get me wrong, I did find some creative elements and slight twists that kept the stories interesting but overall, I didn't find them particularly remarkable. The main accolade I can mention with regards to the individual stories is that it showcases Mitchell's ability to write stories in different voices and in different tones/genres/eras. Admittedly I am not scholarly enough to analyze his accuracy of historic vocabulary, spelling, mannerisms or racial/social diction, etc. nor did I do an analysis of his consistency of usage in the spelling and grammatical differences he employs. I can say that I found his use of vocabulary and diction to be generally believable as coming from the characters he created in the world he presented. I can say that I had an easier time with the archaic words and phrases from the historic sections than with the modified language in the futuristic sections. However, I did find some of the language to be distracting and annoying at times.

*Minor plot spoilers in this paragraph*

Critiquing the plot of the novel is difficult not because it's a difficult plot to follow but because that really isn't the point. As mentioned above, I didn't find the individual novellas to be anything remarkable. Each story has its own plot complete with unique characters, settings, rising action, climax and some degree of resolution. They are adequately entertaining stories but no single one of them is something that I would personally seek out or recommend. As far as the overarching plot of the book (as far as such a thing exists), we are following the trajectory of a reincarnated being from their first (?) life as a notary traveling by sea in the 19th century to the last (documented) life as an islander in a post-apocalyptic world. Each of the 6 stories shows some events in the life of this being and very coincidentally each life is peripherally (or sometimes more closely) connected to one or more of the former lives. The threads weaving the various lives together seemed to me very fragile and contrived. The only one that felt vaguely interesting to me was the relation of the second to last life (Sonmi-451) and the world of the characters in the sixth novella. It felt like there was too much effort put in trying to build plot points to keep these characters involved with one another and to me this was a disservice to the story.

*End plot spoilers*

So, if the plot isn't the point of the book and the novellas aren't remarkable, why read it? Why indeed? As an experiment on style and structure, this is an engaging study and worth looking at. While the plot as a storytelling element didn't resonate with me, perhaps elements of the plot will work better for other readers or perhaps some will be very interested in one or more of the novellas. It seems to me that the importance of this novel (and perhaps the reason for its praise) comes more in terms of the themes or ideas that it tries to present rather than the plot itself and at least equal to or possibly more than its novelty in form and structure.

While it's not heavy handed in its presentation of theme or thesis, I felt like the book does put forth the idea of knowledge and language and their relation to power and influence. The various unique voices of each novella act as illustrations for the impact of language on the world and the inhabitants. The ability for language to inform and to obfuscate is clear not only in the choice of words but also in the structure of the novel (such as ending a novella mid-sentence to put the reader off balance). The knowledge of the relationship between the characters in the novellas is intentionally kept hidden from the reader (and from the characters) until the author wants to make it known. As more and more knowledge is shared, the risks grow larger due to greed and struggle for power and influence. Eventually power corrupts and the world falls back into a time where language and life is more primitive. Our characters and our novellas come nearly full circle in terms of worldly capabilities and the relation of the language in each novella's language styles help illustrate this.

Is the novel effective in carrying out its purpose? I don't know. Partly because I don't know what Mitchell truly intended. The book certainly gained a lot of praise and even had a movie made. (Personally, I'm curious as to how well the movie would hold up since, as I mentioned above, I felt that the plot was secondary to the structure and theme) For my reading tastes, I much preferred Bone Clocks to Cloud Atlas. Bone Clocks had some similar concepts of reincarnation and similar uses of narrative and language structure in terms of the storytelling. But Bone Clocks also had stronger plot elements and linked together the reincarnated lives in a stronger way. Granted, Bone Clocks was likely trying to accomplish something different and appeal to readers differently.

Overall, I can't wholly recommend this novel but I wouldn't dissuade readers from it either. I found it to be an engaging read and something I found myself thinking about even while the book was back on the shelf. I admired the efforts of Mitchell to create an ambitious form and to weave his ideas and theme through an intricate tapestry of lives and language. For students of contemporary literary experiments, this is a book worth exploring. For somebody looking for a casual "beach read", this isn't necessarily something to pick up. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking work. I'm still thinking about it, though part of my thinking is honestly trying to think about if the whole thing was worth it. *grin*

3 out of 5 stars ( )
1 vote theokester | Apr 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 539 (next | show all)
It felt like reading multiple stories from six different authors all on a common theme, yet all these disparate characters connect, their fates intertwine, and their souls drift across time like clouds across a globe.
Cloud Atlas is powerful and elegant because of Mitchell's understanding of the way we respond to those fundamental and primitive stories we tell about good and evil, love and destruction, beginnings and ends. He isn't afraid to jerk tears or ratchet up suspense - he understands that's what we make stories for.

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mitchell, Davidprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Campbell, CassandraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guest, Kim MaiNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heyborne, KirbyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mijn, Aad van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oldenburg, VolkerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
For Hana and her grandparents.
First words
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.
Oh, once you've been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn't want you back.
Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.
The stationmaster's whistle blew on time, the locomotive strained like a gouty proctor on the pot before heaving itself into motion.
"Are you mad?"
Always a trickier question than it looks. "I doubt it."
Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
The book consists of six nested stories that take us from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is revealed to be a story that is read (or watched) by the main character in the next.
Haiku summary
Looping, linking time/
chaining space, land seasalt drifting/
visual lyric threads
The literary
equivalent of Marmite –
you love or hate it.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375507256, Paperback)

Now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant, and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer

A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”—The New York Times Book Review

“One of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is—and should be—read by any student of contemporary literature.”—Dave Eggers

“Wildly entertaining . . . a head rush, both action-packed and chillingly ruminative.”—People
“The novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet—not just dazzling, amusing, or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I’m grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds.”—Michael Chabon

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:11 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Recounts the connected stories of people from the past and the distant future, from a nineteenth-century notary and an investigative journalist in the 1970s to a young man who searches for meaning in a post-apocalayptic world.

» see all 9 descriptions

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