I got to read Cloud Atlas in a slightly roundabout way: I first read this amazing article in the New Yorker on how the film got to be made, and that got me interested in actually reading the book before the film was released. So when I was on holiday in London, I dropped into my favourite bookstore and picked it up, along with Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” which I had been meaning to read for ages. But that is another book for another post.
So, Cloud Atlas. I finished it a while ago, really keen on writing a blog post about it, promptly lost track and now here I am, trying to recapture the excitement I felt when I put the book down. There is something deeply appealing about this book, about its unusual structure, the constant, slightly oblique self-referencing, the playing around with language… but first, we need a quick description. Cloud Atlas tells six different stories, in six different times (from the 1700s to the far future), in six different styles, all interconnected in a way that is never quite explained. For the first half of Cloud Atlas, these stories are told in their chronological order, after the one set in the far future, the order reverses and we end where we have begun. It’s hard to make a book like this work, and miraculously, this one actually does.
Usually, I’m mainly attracted by good storytelling, interesting ideas, well-crafted prose– Cloud Atlas has all of the above, but also a structural beauty. There is symmetry to the chapters, and elegance in the way they hint at each other, bouncing themes and ideas back and forth.
It is, of course, by no means absolutely perfect. Some of the stories are more interesting than others, but they are never bad or boring. Some are outright fascinating. There might even be a bit of kitsch in some. But this book affected me, I deeply enjoyed it, and maybe, you will too. In a few days, the movie will come out here– I’m looking forward to it.