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Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
Random House, $15.00, 528pp
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Cloud Atlas is:

1). An ephemeral metaphor
2). A meteorological description
3). A musical sextet written in the 1930s
4). A damn fine book

All right: Of course it is all of the above.

And now it’s been turned into a film. OMG.

The writing in this book is so very fine. It is crystal sharp and descriptive. The characters are vivid and detailed…but for me this was no easy read: Mitchell uses a great deal of patois (a lot made up) throughout the novel and you must pay attention. The middle, pivotal tale “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ever’rythin After” specifically utilizes a patois of the future and some of it was a little too slippery for me to grasp. But I loved it: the story is set in a Hawaii where people live very spare, dirt poor lives. They are occasionally visited by a mysterious cruise ship whose crew and passengers are the last gasp of the high tech world before it crumbled into isolated groups of near-savages.

This is a novel of six tales, six sets of characters set in different times. In the first half of the book they begin and end—sometimes in the middle of a sentence with their story arcs unfinished. “Sloosha’s Crossin’an’ Ev’rythin’ After” is the only tale that does not repeat in the second half of the novel. But it doesn’t need to. So, after “Sloosha’s” the first five stories pick up again and are concluded.

Each tale has a little thread that links it to the previous story. The sentence on the back cover puts it into focus “Everything IS connected.” On pages 392-393 you get a clear delineation of what concerns the author here: The past the present and the future and their inter-connectedness.

This is my interpretation of what drives the novel: He uses the example of the Titanic. Once the last survivor dies: all we have left is the memories of those who went through it, written and otherwise. The further we get from the event the further we get from the truth. A virtual sinking of the Titanic based on a plethora of sources real and imagine becomes truer than the reality. And since the past, the present and the future are interpreted differently by each of us and lay nested inside the other like a matryoshka doll (those lovely Russian wooden dolls one inside the other getting smaller and smaller…) everyone’s interpretation affects the other and colors how the future happens…

Perhaps I am confusing you here (or I am terribly confused…)

But this is not the only point Mitchell wants to make---he has so much to say about the decay of civilization, the corruption of power, war, and an earth almost destroyed by industry run amok. Even what it means to be human. What it means to create. A lot of this tale is not pleasant---but oh, the characters and settings!

There’s lots of thought and wonderful writing to enjoy in this novel.

 Read the book. Enjoy the tale(s). Despite my tripping over his use of patois…this book is a wonder and a keeper. One that expands the nature of what a book can achieve.

As much as it’s a cliché; this book for me was a triumph. ~~ Sue Martin

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