When Cloud Atlas was first published, I bought the hardback and it took me about 6 weeks to read it. I ploughed through it relentlessly, and was left completely bewildered as to what it was about, what it meant, and who the hell this David Mitchell character was. I found some parts of it fascinating and others as dull as ditchwater.
Six years on, I’ve managed to read it in nine very busy days, and I did find it much less impenetrable this time. The novel is split into six sections. First Mitchell tells you the first half of six stories, then he tells you the second half of each story, in the opposite order so that you don’t get the end of the very first story until the end of the book, and in the middle is one unbroken story. The first story is set in the 1800s, and each one comes progressively further forward in time, until the last story, when we’re in a very distant future.
My main problem with this book is that I find the first story and the sixth story to be very, very hard going, to the point where I can barely bring myself to read more than ten pages at once. Having a think about why, I suppose it could well be because these two had language that was the most dissimilar from contemporary English. I like to be able to read very smoothly and because I kept coming across made up and even unfamiliar words on almost every line, I think I got a bit bored with it.
However, the stories that I enjoyed, I really enjoyed! The characters were really well done, and all the character voices were so different. I think when writing from multiple points of view, it’s really important to have very clear distinctions between each character, and this was done with incredible skill. The stories are so varied and exciting that it’s impossible not to get drawn in. And, of course, you always keep going because even if you don’t care about the story you’re reading now, there are others that still need tying up.
The way each story echoes the one before it might be slightly overdone, but I still liked it as a concept. It’s such a simple idea but such an ambitious one, and I doubt there are many authors that could do it justice. I know this book is going to reward frequent re-reads…in about two years’ time, when I finish this challenge at last!