Dan Sandman

02: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 11/01/2013 at 12:00 pm

The book I’m now reading was discarded by a friend, the mother of one of my guitar students, and given to me two summer’s ago. She handed it to me after her daughter’s guitar lesson saying that she “couldn’t get through it” and wished me better luck. Soon afterwards, I started the book but stopped reading at about page 58.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

“It just goes to show that every discarded book deserves a second chance.”

On my first attempt, the book’s heavily embellished language and shifting narrative voices were too daunting for me. Cloud Atlas felt like the kind of book that one requires an English degree to decode and translate. I believed the opening 39 pages entitled The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing were narrated in an archaic language and therefore hard to follow. I thought that the plot was unclear and the characters were difficult to empathise with.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (side)

“I creased the book’s spine and dug in for the ride.”

Two years later, I decided to start from the beginning again; and after about one hundred pages I was fully engrossed. To my joy, delight and surprise, I creased the book’s spine and dug in for the ride. It just goes to show that every discarded book deserves a second chance.

Cloud Atlas is full of linguistic invention and rewarded my commitment with a host of intelligent story telling devises. I enjoyed how characters were brought to life by their choice of language; I marvelled at how each story was connected by a series of clues that slowly unravel: it was fun, clever and thought-provoking. I am looking forward to the forthcoming film released later this year.

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  1. I too found Cloud Atlas to be a difficult but ultimately very rewarding book. I listened to the unabridged audiobook and that may have made it easier for me, since the different narrators were voiced differently. But in some ways it’s harder to follow an audiobook since you can’t flip back and check who’s who, what exactly happened in a certain scene, etc. I think it would be really difficult to capture the full scope of this book in a movie, but I thought the same thing about Life of Pi (admittedly a much shorter book) and I thought the movie version of that was beautifully done, so maybe Cloud Atlas will also translate well to a movie.

    • Hi Julia, yes I think listening to an audio version of the book would help. I found this to be the case when I first started reading Ulysses by James Joyce; another difficult book to follow because of its shifting narrative voices. Having an actor or actors play the different parts can certainly help one to digest a challenging text more easily. Sometimes I find that by imagining the varying voices in my head, I can follow the book more fluidly. I think that Cloud Atlas will work well as a film; as long as the director, cast, and crew can do a good job of re-imagining the text. Seeing the movie version should enhance our experience of reading the book. If the film turns out to be a damp squib then at least it will make us appreciate the book more – which must be a good thing if you ask me.

  2. This one is definitely on my “To-read” list.

    • I’m looking forward to seeing the film: a reward for reading all 529 pages in one week.

      • I haven’t heard as good of things about the movie as I did the book (despite an excellent cast and directorship.) It sounded like it was a case of difficulty converting a long novel into a short screen play. I can see that. Because if you can easily do it, your novel should probably be shorter.

      • Good point. According to the IMDb, the film version is almost 172 minutes long. Three hours should be long enough to tell the story in a concise way. However, a two or three part film would allow for a deeper exploration of the book. For example, recently Peter Jackson and crew managed to flesh out The Hobbit: a much shorter book than Cloud Atlas.

      • Thanks for the tip about the Hobbit – I will definitely try to see it!

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