Saturday, November 27, 2004

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
This hodgepodge of six stories strands the reader, over and over, in new lands without a map. One, two, three, four, five, six times the stories course from the past to the future, in chronological order. (Later it returns to each storyline again, five to one.) But each story is so compellingly-told that it pulled me along. I wanted to figure out who the characters were, where and when they lived, and what tied all the stories together.

The first section plunks into a 150-year-old South Pacific travel diary. Not a little off-putting is the pedantic pen of the uptight diarist, with his obscure bon mots and taste for foreign tongues. But quickly it gets juicy, with cannibals, gold rush fever, stowaways. The diary ends mid-sentence. New story, new style: Snappy, sassy letters from a young destitute musician conning his way through life. 1930s Belgium. Combination of Catcher in the Rye and The Graduate. Letters to whom? Some friend, unclear who. Round three: 1975, California, a powers-that-be story of industrial greed and hit men. What next? Style shifts, settings jump, plot twists, always surprises.

See A. S. Byatt's review from the Guardian (UK).


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