Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Sceptre (21 Feb 2005)
Category(ies): Historical/Literature/Science Fiction
This is a distinctly odd book. To start with, it comprises a linked set of novelettes (each referring back to the previous one), with the first being a set of journals (set in the Age of Sail, mid 19th Century in the Pacific), being read by the author of a set of letters in the 1930s, whose Cloud Atlas Sextet is then listened to by the protagonist of the third, whose adventures are read by the fourth, and so on. Yet, rather than be placed one after another, they are one within another, each later one being placed at the middle of the preceding one.
This is a really odd idea. And yet it works, because the tension arising from the outer, earlier, unfinished stories reflects through into the later, still unfinished stories as well. It didn't win the Booker prize, but it was shortlisted for it, and deservedly so.
As far as the stories themselves are concerned, they vary greatly in scale and style. The final one, set in a post-apocalyptic world where everything has effectively run down, and which is told in a dialect, was the one I was going to hate. And yet, it says much for Mitchell's storytelling abilities that even that one was enjoyable.
And that's the secret. Mitchell may have been playing with form, but he can tell a story. The result is a dazzling tour-de-force.