And so to the second last of the Ten Favourite Books list. I have posted many times about David Mitchell; he’s one of my favourite modern writers. He’s the exception to the maxim that one shouldn’t meet one’s heroes. I met him at the Dublin Writers Festival five years ago and he couldn’t have been nicer.
My introduction to his work was Cloud Atlas, first published in 2004 and first read by me around then. (I didn’t write my name and the date when I bought it as I usually do, because I bought a first edition in hardback and it would have devalued it. Not that I ever intend to sell it, but I have a certain respect for first editions.)
Cloud Atlas is structured in a unique way; it’s the literary equivalent of Russian dolls, in that each narrative is contained within another. The book comprises six interlinked stories, each taking place at a different time in history with a different narrator and a different style, ranging from a nautical story set in 1850 to a post-apocalytic story in Hawaii, and straightforward mystery to speculative fiction.
The book starts with the first half of the first story, then the first half of the second story, etc., until the sixth story which is told in its entirety, and then we get the second half of the fifth story, the second half of the fourth, etc., hence the Russian doll comparisons. Perhaps it sounds complicated but it’s not, mostly because Mitchell pulls it off with considerable ease and style, leaving each narrative at a crucial moment without the reader feeling like he’s playing some kind of cheap cliffhanger trick.
Cloud Atlas blew me away on first reading. Mitchell’s writing is obviously accomplished and he has a singular ability with language and pacing, but I was most impressed by the fact that he created six distinctive narrative voices in one book, a feat many novelists fail to achieve in the course of a career.
I have read everything of Mitchell’s, except for his most recent novel, The Bone Clocks, which has been sitting in The Pile for a while. I adored Cloud Atlas so much that I have bought it for many people as a Christmas or birthday present, and I think if you haven’t read Mitchell’s work, this is the one to start with.
I haven’t yet seen the film adaptation and I’m kinda scared to, but if any of you wonderful readers say it’s worthwhile then I’ll check it out.