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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Read for the TBR Lite 2009 Reading Challenge.

Cloud Atlas has a little bit of story for everyone. There’s the 19th century clerk on a ship in the South Pacific, an early 20th century aspiring composer trying to worm his way into the home and life a musical genius, a reporter from the 1970s investigating a nuclear power plant, a small time publisher tricked into a nursing home who plots his escape, a human clone created for service who develops a mind of her own, and finally, the narrative of life on a post-apocalyptic Hawaii. Each of the first five stories seems to stop mid stream, and it’s only after the sixth is told that second half of the others is revealed.

This is a hard book to get. The stories are only loosely related. (I didn’t know what to pay attention to yet in the first, and so probably missed the little throw away hints I knew enough to catch later on.) Each story is engaging on its own, and you could probably read them as completely separate tales if you chose to. My favorite two are of Frobisher, the aspiring composer, which is told entirely in letters, and the story of Mr. Cavendish, the small time publisher desperate to return to his old life. That particular story is delightfully madcap.

The last two stories, those of the Somni clone, and of Zachry on a far future Hawaii, are both definitely genre stories, but I’d have to classify the overall book as straight fiction, because the author uses genre to advance the overall themes of the book. These themes are only articulated on the last two pages of the story, which happens in the second half of the original tale of Adam Ewing, the 19th century clerk. I won’t reveal anything else about that, because it took me almost the entire book to firm up what I really thought this book was about, and that journey is part of the fun of the story. As I noted to Patrick one evening when I was about a third of the way through, I totally don’t get this book, but I like it. It’s a good journey that I highly recommend.

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