Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 2/5
After the disappointing discovery that this David Mitchell is the “wrong” David Mitchell and the marginal experience of reading his first book, Ghostwritten, I had not planned to read anything else by him. However, I changed my mind when my old hold on Cloud Atlas finally came in at the library and I realised how many people were lined up, waiting to read it after me.
First, the positive: I love the opening sentence – “Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.” Stylistically, Mitchell’s writing has matured, with a more unique voice and a very chewy vocabulary. There are even a couple brilliantly poetic/philosophic sentences.
Unfortunately, the book’s framework relies on the same plot gimmicks as Ghostwritten, making Mitchell seem like the sort of diminutive equine that is only capable of one trick. Instead of the added depth and skill of execution that I expected from a more experienced Mitchell, Cloud Atlas seemed to compound the faults of Ghostwritten. The connections between the stories are laboured and glaring, the plot seemed ultimately pointless, the characters/scenarios preachy and the vignettes cliched.
Sadly, this book is not written by British comedian David Mitchell, but by a less funny and much less sarcastic man of the same name. Nevertheless, I persevered in my reading because these very personal stories, narrated from the viewpoint of nine different individuals, are well-written, with a voyeuristic appeal. I admire how Mitchell gently weaves the accounts together, letting the reader discover the characters and events in common between them, instead of belaboring the connections. The main reason I didn’t give this book a higher rating is that I am unable to understand what the point of the whole thing is (and it’s not just that I’m too thick to “get” it – other reviewers seem equally unenlightened and even the book jacket was very vague in its description). The novel has the effect of a garment, beautifully embroidered and carefully sewn together, that cannot be worn because its random openings and panels don’t fit the human body.