I’ve always been a big fan of novels that use several narrators, be it Chuck Palahniuk’s black-humoured Rant or Bret Easton Ellis’ love triangle in The Rules of Attraction. I find myself able to delve into the melding narratives effortlessly. There’s something fresh, engaging and even transgressive about stories narrated from a nuance of characters, and this is especially the case with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
Stretched across a plethora of continents, centuries, races and personalities, it is important to understand Mitchell’s ethos before you move past the book’s cover. In effect, Cloud Atlas strives to explore the innate universality of raw human nature. It is permeated with characteristic, recurrent themes and ideas, and the characters are all entwined in some way or another. This left me skeptical at first, because I was nervous the whole of my time spent reading the narratives would become a ‘look-for-the-recurring-stuff’ word hunt.
But the thing is, it really wasn’t. Cloud Atlas’ six narrators are so infinitely different from one another and placed in such a variation of settings that you begin to forget the stories are connected. This means that when you do discern similarities in names, physiologies or objects, the satisfaction in watching it all come together never ceases to grow.
With protagonists ranging from a bisexual British composer conning a dying musical genius, a journalist in the 1970’s discovering a corporate nuclear scandal, a cloned humanoid slave in some distant dystopian state and more — the palette of individual narratives is so very complete and well-executed that the fact the novel is split into six becomes redundant.
To be honest, I was so absorbed in finishing Cloud Atlas in print, I forgot to see it on the big screen altogether —I’m almost afraid to. Written works with multiple narrators have transcended to cinema countless times (some better than others), but Mitchell did this so superbly with words that I’m nervous visual would not do it justice.
This coupled with my fear that the interconnections between characters would be made painstakingly obvious for cinema audiences (thus preventing us from feeling clever for putting two and two together) are just some of the reasons why I would probably prefer to have a sit down with a cup of tea and give it another read. I’d advise you to do the same.
Book review by Julie Cornu