Another month, another book for the #adnbookclub :D Last month’s book was “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell which just recently also made it out of Hollywood and into our local cinemas. Well, I haven’t seen the movie yet but the trailer was definitely interesting enough to vote for this book when it was an option during our month’s book selection process.
A journey through time and space
Anyway, to the book: The story is split into 6 smaller ones that are all loosely connected with each. The first four stories are all set about 50 years apart starting with the journey of a resident of San Francisco through the Southern Pacific and ending with an English book publisher in the early 21st century. The other two stories take place in the future with the first feeling like something that might happen in the next 100 - 200 years while the other one might be 500 years away. I don’t think any of them were dated in any way.
Most of the stories are interesting and some of them are even great; although I have to confess, that I considered the first (about the journey through the Pacific) boring and the second one about an Englishman in Belgium even annoying to the point that I was close skipping either it or the book as a whole. That said, with the story taking place in the 1970s the book became vastly more entertaining to me. The main protagonists weren’t boring or despicable and the plot was something I’d also enjoy reading in a longer format.
As I already wrote, all these stories are somehow loosely connected. You can always find some aspect of the previous story in the adventures of the current character. Be it a reference to a place or a characters, a work of art or some characteristic of a body. On the other hand the stories are completely different - from a journey to a crime story to revolution - and also told in quite unique ways, always fitting with the time period. While the first story is told through a journey logbook, another is told through letters while another one’s source are the interrogation logs of a prisoner. In fact each story is more or less read or watched by a character in another story. To do this the author split all but one story into two and arranged them in such a way that the first story is also the last one, the second is also the second to last and so on.
With all this jumping around the amount of characters introduced, I was actually quite happy to stumble upon the Cloud Atlas Wiki which has short summaries of every character in the book (and the movie). Otherwise the return to the 1970s would have probably confused me to the extreme ;-)
Not for me…
This might all sound great and some ideas definitely are, but for some reason I could never emotionally connect with any of the characters except perhaps for one. One in six is a bit of a letdown. While I think the whole connected-world plot is neat and the way the stories fit into or around each other is nice, with some of the stories this felt like a waste because they didn’t influence each other enough. More would have definitely been better here.
Also, while I absolutely applaud the author for the way the stories are told in a “contemporary” way, was the spelling war in chapter 6 (far away future) really necessary? There a version of English is used that lacks half the characters to mimick a sloppy or degenerated language in order to simulate the fall of civilization. Again, a nice idea but sadly put into the extreme which made this chapter (at least for me) far too tiring to read.
Regarding the characters, this has been the first book in a really long time for me, where I actively disliked one of the main protagonists. Sorry but Robert Frobisher is utterly despicable and I was close to skipping his chapters because of that. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely enjoy a “good” antagonist if he is clever or somehow refreshing or in any other way entertaining. Frobisher isn’t anything like that.
There are also some part of the whole story that are completely left open for interpretation which is usually good or at least interesting, here it was not (at least for me).
To sum this one up: Before you buy this one, better try a sample chapter (and with luck it has parts from all the chapters in it)!