I just finished David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a sweeping, genre-spanning work that’s unlike just about anything else out there.
It’s made up of six novellas, opening with the first half of five of them, then the entire sixth at the center, then moving back outwards and presenting all of the conclusions. The story you begin with is therefore the one you eventually end on.
It starts in the 1850s, and is very much written in the style of the day, with each story closer to the center taking place further in the future. The most enticing are probably the center two, which depict some very depressing projections for where society could be headed.
Each story on its own has merit, but the subtle links between them really sell the cohesiveness of the piece. The protagonist of each tale discovers the previous story within their own narrative, and offers commentary on prior events running the gamut from insightful to derisive. The text heavily suggests that the same soul is being reincarnated across time into many different people, and occasional commentary on the nature of the book itself manages to come off as cleverly self-aware as opposed to obnoxious (one of the stories focuses on a composer who happens to be crafting an opus, Cloud Atlas Sextet, structured like the novel’s musical equivalent).
The characters are rich, the constant change in writing style successful, and the wholly unique format constantly manages to work to the book’s advantage.
And get this: It’s becoming a movie. Yes, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer are co-directing the hugely ambitious novel, helming three stories apiece. The cast is ridiculous, and though we haven’t seen a trailer yet it’s sure to be one of the most interesting movies of the year regardless of whether it succeeds. So watch out for this one.