Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

This novel begins as the diary of a gentleman’s adventure on a 19th-century pacific island. It’s all quite eventful until it stops, right in the middle of

Yes, right in the middle of a sentence. Suddenly we are in a completely new and apparently unrelated story, set some years later. Eventually we see that it actually is related somehow, but then that story too is interrupted by another story, set many years further on.

This happens several times, and we see that there are links between the stories, including recurring concepts, such as the titular Cloud Atlas. It’s all very imaginative and the different stories are indeed different in style and tone.

But. The middle section of the book was, for me, excruciatingly bad. It’s set in a dystopian future, narrated in a future pidgin English. It’s all reasonably plausible, but I just found it all so awfully twee. It was like reading an entire story narrated by Roald Dahl’s BFG. I had to grit my teeth; it was a huge relief to gallop through this chapter and get to the end.

The next chapter actually picked up the interrupted previous chapter rather cleverly. And this is the structure of the rest of the novel – the first half burrows down through stories within stories, and the second half climbs back up. The way the stories are nested is actually quite logical and very nicely done, leading to satisfying conclusions to all of them. The fact that I enjoyed this book overall, despite that middle chapter, is a testament to how good the rest of it is.

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