disregard the wretched cover (which, by the way, is just one example of the ‘metallic foil means we don’t have to design anything good’ artwork that is on every david mitchell book i saw at readings) which is actually the reason cloud atlas
languished unread for so long in the middle of a pile of other endlessly more attractive, or at least not so inane-looking books. (i just typed ‘loud atlast’. what a pleasant typo.) there is no conceivable way david mitchell looked at this and said ‘yes, that is exactly what i want for my book. basically i want people to think my book is about a bucolic robot settlement.’ i really hope he had nothing to do with it. i honestly don’t think he possibly could. because cloud atlas
is what plenty of people have described as virtuosic, with which i quite agree. it takes a good sort of brain to write a book. and possibly a very complex, sly and ambitious one to write a book which is essentially six books. if you imagine that what mitchell has done is write six novellas and laid them out flat, one under another, and folded it into a book so that you read half each of the first five before you read the whole of the middle one; and then you read the other half of each one in reverse order; you get cloud atlas.
even if you don’t like the idea of it, and it sounds gimmicky, it is not actually that difficult to navigate. and it adds a very specific charm. cloud atlas operates like a thesaurus. moments in one part will breathtake you back to another – flicking backwards can lead you further along. again seeming overly tricksy, each section wears a different genre. it is skilfully done but not without a hand detected behind. and this self-consciousness is perhaps intentional, because the sections’ interdependence is a well-established and necessary feature. notwithstanding the interrelationship’s utility, the grace of the message suffers from mitchell’s inability to trust his readers enough to draw their own map from the terrain he provides. there are more than a couple of authorly over-exertions, the title metaphor being one of them. nevertheless, cloud atlas is a elegant thing which still manages to pack a punch – the cyclical self-destruction of the human species writ large in its pages.