Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is an amazing novel. It consists of six interlocking stories—the journal of an idealistic young American in the South Pacific in the 1850s, the letters of a penniless Englishman working his way into the household of a distinguished Belgian composer in 1931, a hard-boiled detective story about a woman investigator proving wrongdoing at a nuclear power plant in 1970s California, a comic account of an English publisher in the present trying to escape for a home for the elderly where he was confined by mistake, a dystopian science fiction story about a cloned worker in a future totalitarian corporate Korea, and an account of inhabitants of a more-distant future Hawaii who have relapsed into barbarism.
Each of the stories would be good as a stand-alone story. But in the novel, each of them except the last breaks off in the middle and becomes an element in the next story. So the novel as a whole is more than the sum of its parts. It shows how the past shapes the present, and both past and present will shape the future. The structure was more than a clever trick. Mitchell made it work—at least for me.
Now Cloud Atlas is going to be made into a movie. I don’t see how this is possible, but I’ll certainly go to see it.
Click on David Mullan’s Cloud Atlas Review Part One and Part Two, David Mitchell on Writing Cloud Atlas and Reader Responses for a discussion of Cloud Atlas in The Guardian newspaper’s Guardian Book Club.
Click on The Wachowskis for a New Yorker feature article on the making of the Cloud Atlas movie.