'Cloud Atlas'

By David Mitchell

Sceptre, 2004


This is a superb novel.  Rather, it is a superb inter-connected series of 6 novellas.    Each of these concerns one of a series of reincarnations. Six people are separated by decades in time, but are each connected.  They all have the same comet-shaped birthmark, and clues to an inter-connectedness between the five subjects permeates the book in the form of deja vu.  Ironically, the only one of the five people who realises that there is a solid connection is Luisa Rey, a fictional character  from a novel who quixotically takes the part of the middle incarnation of the six.

I have briefly broken down a précis of the novellas:








The structure of 'Cloud Atlas' is unusual.  Each of the first five stories halts abruptly halfway through, reflecting the partial knowledge attained about that incarnation by the next one.  As the novellas progress each incarnation finds the second half of the previous story, allowing each story to be finished in reverse chronological order in the second half of the book. Ingenious. 

The evolution of the individual over a number of lifetimes is counter-balanced by the disintegration of society towards tyranny, totalitarianism and eventual anarchy.  It is a pessimistic worldview, reflecting our modern angst about where present-day society is heading.  The individual's life purpose is to overcome tyranny and brutality, and thereby obtain wisdom and self-knowledge. 

David Mitchell doesn't hold back in his portrayal of human evil, which becomes the norm rather than the exception in his work.  His observations are sharp witted, often painful, and well read. An immense amount of research has gone into the authorship of the book to provide its rugged realism.  I can't recommend it highly enough.










Book review by Andy Lloyd, 19th February 2006

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