David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004)
While I don’t always follow it, I have a simple rule when choosing to read an unfamiliar novel. I will read an unfamiliar book if it has been independently recommended by two people. Like all rules, it has an arbitrary quality. Yet, I have to admit, by following this rule, I have had the good fortune of a long streak of good novels.*
I broke this rule when I chose to read Cloud Atlas. In fact, I read the book on the mediated suggestions of the trailer for the Cloud Atlas film adaptation. This trailer made me really, really curious:
I have yet to see the movie, but I am moderately happy that this very colourful and fantastical trailer made me read the novel first.
What makes Cloud Atlas good is the ambitiousness of it all. The structure of the novel was clearly born out of a wonderful idea to make six different stories fold out of one another.
However, I must say that this novel is good but not great. I can give two reasons.
First, for each of the six parts Mitchell uses a different writing style, and one style, in my opinion, makes for a very laborious read.**
Second, the book is a general representation of philosophies of history that put way too much emphasis on the recurrence of the same.*** In Cloud Atlas, the struggle between power and love, between death and life, go on and on, but on to what? This second point is also a matter of opinion.
I will see the film at some point. In their decision “translate” this complex and imaginative book into the language of Hollywood cinema, Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have Mitchell-like ambition. I remain very curious.
* This outcome my say more about the people who recommend books to me than the structure of the rule itself.
** There is no reason to be more specific than that. The book is definitely good enough to make any spoiler mean spirited.
*** There is a clear Nietzschean influence in Cloud Atlas, but Mitchell has misinterpreted Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence of the same.