As so often happens when I read a very good novel, I hesitate in stating that it is a masterful story or a work of genius. Generally it is simply a very good read and sometimes the story stays with me, for a few days, or perhaps a few weeks and then I just simply forget about it, or until the title is mentioned somehow in conversation. But when a book like Cloud Atlas comes along and you, the reader are asked to read six very different novellas that are somehow connected, and which also manage to tie everything together through time, space and humanity, well, what else can you say but that this novel could very well be a work of utter genius. Here’s why. David Mitchell writes in six different genres, namely historical, sci-fi, crime, mystery-thriller, comedy and post-apocalyptic, all in the very same book! Mitchell also interweaves the narratives in such a way that they are somehow ultimately and subtly linked but which span hundreds of years and very different lives. Without giving too much away, they are quite possibly reincarnations of past narrators and characters that we meet throughout the novel.
The trade paperback book cover illustrates six various cloud formations that perhaps connect the elaborate stories but most likely they are symbolic of the various character transformations that span infinity. In Cloud Atlas Mitchell confronts common issues such as slavery and freedom, racism, belonging and rejection, loss and discovery, cruelty and human compassion. But it’s also much more than that. This novel is so utterly complex that you should read it carefully and perhaps several times in order to completely understand its multifaceted mosaic prose. Yet this review of sorts doesn’t begin to describe just how mind-boggling the novel itself is written. Mitchell is truly a gifted writer. Once you begin to unravel its tightly knitted story lines, you will undoubtedly discover that indeed the stories resemble literary Matryoshka dolls. Some readers will also discover Mitchell’s various literary influences from Italo Calvino‘s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler to Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Consequently you must read this novel carefully and thoughtfully and then reread it again to fully appreciate its many themes and messages. Once you have, you may come away thinking that your idea of life as you know it, has been irreversibly altered.
Cloud Atlas was first published in 2004 and ever since, I’ve stumbled across many references to this brilliant story in various literary contexts. It was not until last winter that I finally bought the novel and hunkered down to read it last spring. It is not an easy read as the novellas contain very different narrative styles but it is worth getting through to the end as the reader is ultimately rewarded with countless moments of introspection and clarity. Throughout the stories the reader will no doubt form a myriad of questions about the characters and situations by trying to make credible connections. Yet as you read, you may also ponder your own personal questions about past lives and the possibility of reincarnation. Indeed, are we all connected? Do we continuously return as different people but with the same soul (although somewhat worse for wear)? Do we repeat past mistakes until we eventually learn from them? Do we meet the same people, over and over again? If we do meet our supposed ‘soul mates’, how do we recognize them? Do we know them instantly? These and other questions constantly resurface as you read the novel. This is why I love to read because ultimately, I want to learn about other worlds, past, present and future. I want to learn more about myself and why we are who we are on this big blue marbled ball. I want to have those ‘ah-ha’ moments when I read as well as when I see films. Films are sometimes meant to teach us (as are books!) and not solely to entertain. Such movie moments often leave us wanting more and have us talking about it for days, if not weeks to come. That is the true mark of a great film, as well as a superb novel. This is how I felt when I finished Cloud Atlas. I wanted to tell everyone about it, without of course ruining the plot.
Now comes the film adaptation that will be released on October 26, 2012 in Canada and was directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (of Run Lola Run and The Matrix Trilogy fame). If the trailer is any indication, it promises to be a thrilling ride both visually and emotionally. It will doubtless be interesting to see the differences in both the film and the book and how the directors actually tackled the various stories to bring the characters together to finally make it all work as one linear film. The trailer itself is so beautifully presented that I hope the entire film satiates our collective curiosities and dare I say, momentous expectations!
In any case, I suggest that if you haven’t read the novel, pick it up soon and read it before you see the film. And do let me know how you feel about the novel and the soon-to-be-released film.
This is the word on books and films for today, gentle readers!