If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the rices of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a wold will come to pass. -From Cloud Atlas, page 508-
David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas, is at once brilliant, far reaching in scope and immensely creative. I read this book like an addict – hanging on the words, seeking the answers, caught up in the worlds Mitchell flawlessly creates. I feel like I could re-read this book several times and continue to find new meanings each time. David Mitchell is a newly discovered author for me – and I am in awe of his talent. I will most certainly be reading his other two novels –Ghostwritten AND Number9Dream – in the very near future.
Cloud Atlas appears to be six seemingly disparate stories, but they are woven together and connected as the novel progresses. Tucked into the stories, Mitchell alludes to the novel’s structure at least twice.
One model of time: an infinite matroyoshka doll of painted moments, each “shell” (the present) encased inside a nest of “shells” (previous presents) I call the actual past but which we perceive as the virtual past. The doll of “now” likewise encases a nest of presents yet to be, which I call the actual future but which we perceive as the virtual future. -From Cloud Atlas, page 393-
Confused? Don’t be. Mitchell brings it all together in an incredible symphony of writing brilliance. Not only does he create memorable characters, he weaves his words like a painter – fabricating beautiful descriptions of setting.
I was excited to see Eva van Outryvede Crommelynck (a wonderful character from Mitchell’s latest novel, Black Swan Green) make an appearance in this one as a young girl. It gives me some cautious hope that in a future novel we might seen the dynamic and lovable Jason Taylor again!
A common theme in Cloud Atlas is that of power as a destructive force. Mitchell writes:
The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. -page 444-
Ultimately, Mitchell evokes a world where all humans are connected – like souls which ‘cross ages like clouds cross skies.’ This is truly a beautifully written novel which will stay with the reader long after the final page has been turned.