Some novels begin at the beginning and proceed in a straight line towards the end, an omniscient narrator explaining everything clearly along the way. Not David Mitchells; his extraordinary books are more like webs or puzzles. Cloud Atlas has six storytellers. Adam Ewing is a naive observer on a 19th century sea voyage in the Pacific. Robert Frobisher is a disgraced bisexual musician, scamming his way round Belgium in the 1930s. Luisa Rey is a feisty investigative journalist confronting the nuclear industry in 70s California. Timothy Cavendish is a fabulously cranky middle-aged publisher; his acerbic comments on life in modern England provide the novels funniest scenes. Sonmi 451 is a fabricant living in a ghastly dystopian future, where the world is even more controlled by corporations than it is today. Zachry is a teenage boy from a more distant future, scraping a primitive living in a post-Apocalyptic Hawaii. Each narrative is so well-written, I was immediately drawn into the lives of these disparate characters. Though separated by time and distance, their stories are all connected; they pop up in each others tales like clues to a mystery. The six environments Mitchell describes are all convincing, but the two glimpses of our future world were the most moving and engrossing of all. Im not usually a fan of sci-fi books, but the testimonies of Sonmi 451 and Zachry had me neglecting meals and ignoring the requests of my children. Mitchells vision of our coming fate is an imaginative mix of Blade Runner and Riddley Walker, focussing on society and culture, rather than technology. His foremost concern throughout the book is power and its abuse, trying to fathom the human appetite for aggression. He conjures the end results of our bad behaviour, and they are not pretty: ...one fine day a purely predatory world shall consume itself. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction. Like Mitchells terrific first novel Ghostwritten, this is cleverly structured and thought-provoking. It requires concentration from its readers, but the effort is worth it. If youre bored by all the vapid, mindless pap out there, and looking for something with substance, Cloud Atlas could blow your enquiring little mind, as it did mine.
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.
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