Update 7/28/2012: So when I first heard the Wachowskis were planning to make a movie of this, I was incredibly skeptical. It's super ambitious, I think, to try to translate a novel that focuses so much on literary techniques into another medium. But now the trailer's been released, and I've gotta say -- it looks pretty fucking awesome.
Thoughts? The more I watch it the less it looks like the book to me, but I'm still pretty excited. I may well end up hating it, though.
If I could give this book a million stars, I would. It is an absolute masterpiece.
I tend to like experimental, postmodern fiction with a good gimmick, but it's not enough to make a book great. Most of the time, I end up thinking "Well, the author had some cool ideas, but..." No. There is no "but" when it comes to this novel. The concept of 6 nested novellas - taking place in completely different time periods, with different characters, and each written in a different style - sounds seriously gimmicky, but Mitchell is such an excellent writer that the different narratives work together flawlessly. The voice of each section is so distinct, you would never guess they were all written by the same author if the stories had been published separately. What's even more astonishing is that each of the 6 stories, though very different, are all excellent. While this isn't exactly a short story anthology, allow me the liberty of a comparison - I have never read a short story anthology in which each piece was great on its own. There are always one or two stories, included to flesh out the collection, that just aren't very good. This is far from the case with Cloud Atlas. None of the storylines stand out as being better than the others, and none is forgotten by way of being mediocre. Each story seems better than the last, until you reach the midpoint and the order reverses, and then somehow each one is STILL better than the last. It defies science.
I knew next to nothing about this book going in, except that it came highly recommended by a friend (whose tastes I didn't even know, but I decided to trust him). My reaction while reading basically went like this:
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Pt. 1) - Wait, what is this? Epistolary historical fiction? Why did I keep seeing this book on science fiction and dystopia lists? I'm not really into this stuff... Hey, this is kind of interesting. It's written beautifully, in any case. I'm getting into it. Hold up! Why does it just end in the middle of a sentence? Am I missing a page?
Letters From Zedelghem (Pt. 1) - Well now I'm in a brand-new story apparently and have no idea what's going on. I wish I knew what the hell happened to Adam Ewing. That story was good. Wait, Adam Ewing Who? Now I'm super invested in this mysterious disowned wannabe playboy composer! Robert Frobisher, that's one hell of a name. And the reason the previous story ended so suddenly was because he found the book that was torn in half? You genius, David Mitchell, you.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Pt. 1) - An eco-mystery? Seriously? Hey, I like this Luisa girl, she's spunky. Oh no, cliffhanger!
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Pt. 1) - Aburd, Kafka-esque, hilarious. This is my favorite so far.
An Orison of Sonmi-451 (Pt. 1) - Sorry, did I say the last one was my favorite? No, this is my favorite. Clones on death row, y'all. You know I love a good dystopia. And this is an excellent one, with a wonderfully imagined future world. Oh crap, another cliffhanger? David Dearie, why you gotta play me like that?
Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After - Oh no actually, now this one is my favorite. Post-apocalyptic Hawaii? Who comes up with that? And they worship.... Oh noooo, I did not see that coming. The dialect is kind of A Clockwork Orange meets The Color Purple meets Firefly
, but it works. And then perfect segway back to...
An Orison of Sonmi-451 (Pt. 2) - I changed my mind again. Screw Zachry, this makes Sonmi my favorite again. THIS BOOK NEEDS TO STOP GETTING BETTER WITH EVERY PAGE OR MY HEAD WILL IMPLODE. What, another perfect segway to Timothy Cavendish?
I seriously don't understand how it's possible to write a novel this good. It's totally unique, with fleshed-out characters, beautiful language (varying from proper 19th century correspondence to invented far-future pidgin), amazing storylines, all wrapped up in individual nested gift-wrapped boxes with bows that would make Martha Stewart proud. I almost wish I could erase it from my memory in order to have the pleasure of reading it for the first time again. This book is perfection. I hope the rest of Mitchell's work lives up to this standard, because I am going to go out and buy everything he's ever written in hopes that it's as good.