Hopscotching over centuries, Cloud Atlas likewise jumps in and out of half a dozen different styles, all of which display the author's astonishing talent for ventriloquism, and end up fitting together to make this a highly satisfying, and unusually thoughtful, addition to the expanding ‘puzzle book’ genre...but the puzzle of Cloud Atlas isn't in the book, it is the book … What all these stories have in common is that each draws its lifeblood from the same heart of darkness. Cloud Atlas is a work of fiction, ultimately, about the myriad misuses of fiction: the seductive lies told by grifters, CEOs, politicians and others in the service of expanding empires and maintaining power.
Mitchell's book seemed like everything I couldn't do. It's a nested box of stories, each one a virtuosic performance in an entirely different style from the last … Civilization as we know it ends, in the novel, and the center section is a post-apocalyptic folktale in which only fragments of language and culture remain. Then Mitchell picks up his abandoned stories, one by one, and tells what happened … The book isn't a cold display of cleverness: It has a heart, and a fierce intelligence and a single, recurring soul.
Cloud Atlas imposes a dizzying series of milieus, characters and conflicts upon us...Each story is written quite differently – so much so that Cloud Atlas feels like a doggedly expert gloss on various writers and modes … The novel is frustrating not because it is too smart but because it is not nearly as smart as its author … To write a novel that resembles no other is a task that few writers ever feel prepared to essay. David Mitchell has written such a novel – or almost has. It its need to render every kind of human experience, Cloud Atlas finds itself staring into the reflective waters of Joyce's Ulysses.
Hugely entertaining and vastly ambitious, Cloud Atlas is tailor-made for a reader with eclectic tastes … The elaborate structure enacts a theory of history that’s part of the novel’s core meaning; the stop-and-go narrative reveals itself as a continuous cycle; the separate stories achieve a weird unity; and what seemed at first mere cleverness begins to look like wisdom … I’m sure it’s hard to believe that a pleasing melody could emerge from this cacophony of voices, each in its own language of key, scale and color. But the same remarkable skill that makes the various stories so distinct and engrossing makes their uneasy juxtaposition seem, in the end, harmonious.
Cloud Atlas is a remarkable achievement, a frightening, beautiful, funny, wildly inventive, elaborately conceived tour de force. It places us not in one intensely imagined world but six: six different time periods, milieus, vocabularies and literary styles … To read Cloud Atlas is to feel perpetually off balance, often disoriented, occasionally repulsed. But the rewards outweigh the struggle, and in the end, Mitchell offers his readers enormous and surprising satisfactions … Throughout the book Mitchell's characters make comments about the stories that precede them, and at times speak directly to the book as a whole … One senses that for all the work Mitchell has done on the page he's done far more off the page, investing his characters with elaborate histories that he can recite by memory forward and back.
Mitchell casts time and space, and language itself sometimes, in diffuse arrangements where the rules of narrative physics don't seem to apply. Actions echo other actions, but are unrelated in the traditional sense of plot … Mitchell bends the English language differently in each case, in some instances using dialect of his own invention that requires a little extra attention from the reader...one gets the sense he is mimicking, and perhaps gently mocking, the conventions of 19th Century travelogues, epistolary novels, sci-fi novels and whodunits, each in turn … Some of Mitchell's sections are quite brilliant and moving, while a couple devolve to the pedestrian, marring the overall effect of the novel.
Cloud Atlas is a polyphonic spree whose voices bounce off the sloping walls of the novel's Chinese-box architecture … Cloud Atlas fumbles these pomo glissandos, which smack of an oddly smug defensiveness (is the intention to flatter the reader or rebuke her?), while Sonmi's saga attempts a final metafictional somersault that breaks the back of her entire tale … Once Cloud Atlas reaches its halfway point, it begins falling into sixfold lockstep with the generic demands of third-act resolution … But so long as the heads are still popping off Mitchell's Russian doll like champagne corks, his novel glows with a fizzy, dizzy energy, pregnant with possibility.
There are just six narratives in this story, but they fold in on one another with dazzling elegance … One of the biggest joys of Cloud Atlas is to watch Mitchell sashay from genre to genre without a hitch in his dance step. Whether you are a fantasy-book reader or a thriller reader, a fan of epistolary novels or a reader of journals, you will find Cloud Atlas maintains a startling level of authenticity throughout … there is more to Mitchell's act than pyrotechnics – there is an intense and serious moral core, one that sees not just individuals but a galaxy of humans trying, and often failing, to live mindfully. Watching Mitchell's characters act, and then seeing how their actions reverberate across time, it's hard not to agree that causality may be one of the thorniest moral issues in existence.
There are times when you don't really believe this is a novel, and the metaphor of an atlas for clouds (ever shifting, rather fluffy at times) really suits. Mitchell corrals and weaves six different narrative strands much like a musical composition and you don't truly understand where the author is taking you until the final sentence of the final strand … The tone of each thread runs with an intense clockwork pacing designed to assist the reader, who is compelled to read onward muttering, ‘What the? What the? Hey!?!!!’ … Like a Möbius strip, you find the ends never really complete, but draw back on themselves without having to really end.
Six would-be novels that clang together in alternately eerie and arbitrary ways, Cloud Atlas's stories adopt their subjects' language and disposition to powerful ends … While Mitchell's undeniable command of craft carries through further disjointed chapters, Cloud Atlas strains as it attempts to gather itself under an umbrella full of holes. As allusions sift slowly from chapter to chapter, the novel whispers of purgatory and reincarnation, hinting at the friction between freedom and oppression common to memories of the past and thoughts of the future. The conceit matches its ambition in parts, but a few wobbly chapters show the seams of an awkward welding job.
Mitchell’s latest consists of six narratives set in the historical and recent pasts and imagined futures, all interconnected whenever a later narrator encounters and absorbs the story that preceded his own … Each of the six stories invents a world, and virtually invents a language to describe it … In one of the most imaginative and rewarding novels in recent memory, the author unforgettably explores issues of exploitation, tyranny, slavery, and genocide.