Cloud Atlas

Overview

In this audacious and dazzling novel, Mitchell weaves history, science, humor, and suspense through six separate but related narratives, each set in a different time and place, each written in a different prose style, and each broken mid-action only to be concluded in the second half of the book. One of the more engaging stories is set in 1930s and told via letters describing a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer. Another focuses on a book editor who finds himself ...

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Overview

In this audacious and dazzling novel, Mitchell weaves history, science, humor, and suspense through six separate but related narratives, each set in a different time and place, each written in a different prose style, and each broken mid-action only to be concluded in the second half of the book. One of the more engaging stories is set in 1930s and told via letters describing a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer. Another focuses on a book editor who finds himself accidentally imprisoned in a home for the elderly.

Finalist for the 2004 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Jeff Turrentine
Hopscotching over centuries, Cloud Atlas likewise jumps in and out of half a dozen different styles, all of which display the author's astonishing talent for ventriloquism, and end up fitting together to make this a highly satisfying, and unusually thoughtful, addition to the expanding "puzzle book" genre.
The Washington Post
The New Yorker
Mitchell’s virtuosic novel presents six narratives that evoke an array of genres, from Melvillean high-seas drama to California noir and dystopian fantasy. There is a naïve clerk on a nineteenth-century Polynesian voyage; an aspiring composer who insinuates himself into the home of a syphilitic genius; a journalist investigating a nuclear plant; a publisher with a dangerous best-seller on his hands; and a cloned human being created for slave labor. These five stories are bisected and arranged around a sixth, the oral history of a post-apocalyptic island, which forms the heart of the novel. Only after this do the second halves of the stories fall into place, pulling the novel’s themes into focus: the ease with which one group enslaves another, and the constant rewriting of the past by those who control the present. Against such forces, Mitchell’s characters reveal a quiet tenacity. When the clerk is told that his life amounts to “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean,” he asks, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Tom Bissell
To write a novel that resembles no other is a task that few writers ever feel prepared to essay. David Mitchell has written such a novel -- or almost has. In its need to render every kind of human experience, Cloud Atlas finds itself staring into the reflective waters of Joyce's Ulysses. Just as Joyce, in the scene that takes place in the cabman's shelter, found the hidden beauty of cliche-filled prose, so Mitchell does with his Luisa Rey story.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
At once audacious, dazzling, pretentious and infuriating, Mitchell's third novel weaves history, science, suspense, humor and pathos through six separate but loosely related narratives. Like Mitchell's previous works, Ghostwritten and number9dream (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize), this latest foray relies on a kaleidoscopic plot structure that showcases the author's stylistic virtuosity. Each of the narratives is set in a different time and place, each is written in a different prose style, each is broken off mid-action and brought to conclusion in the second half of the book. Among the volume's most engaging story lines is a witty 1930s-era chronicle, via letters, of a young musician's effort to become an amanuensis for a renowned, blind composer and a hilarious account of a modern-day vanity publisher who is institutionalized by a stroke and plans a madcap escape in order to return to his literary empire (such as it is). Mitchell's ability to throw his voice may remind some readers of David Foster Wallace, though the intermittent hollowness of his ventriloquism frustrates. Still, readers who enjoy the "novel as puzzle" will find much to savor in this original and occasionally very entertaining work. Agent, Douglas Stewart. (Aug. 24) Forecast: Lots of buzz and a friendly paperback price will ensure strong sales, but like other fashionable tomes (think Pynchon's Mason & Dixon) Mitchell's novel may be more admired than read. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In what must rank among the year's more ambitious novels, Mitchell (Ghostwritten) presents six quasicliffhanger stories in six different time periods. Beginning with a mid-19th-century Pacific voyage, the book then vaults to an early 20th-century composer who cuckolds his mentor, a 1970s reporter pursued by hitmen when she joins forces with a company whistleblower, a put-upon editor trapped inside a home for the aged, a servant clone interrogated about her travels to the outside world, and, finally, a return to the Pacific, only centuries later in a post-civilization world. Got it? Now tie up the cliffhangers in reverse order, going backward in time. The stories have a loose connecting theme of pursuing freedom and justice, and Mitchell has a gift for creating fully realized worlds with a varied cast of characters. However, there are patches of rough sledding; while the clever construction serves to highlight the novel's big ideas, the continual interruptions may distance the average reader. After slogging through five half-stories, the author has the bravery (or foolishness?) to relate the sixth in an invented dialect for a long stretch. The book has received good press in the United Kingdom, but perhaps sensing a smaller audience, the U.S. publisher offers a trade paperback original at a "try me" price. Libraries may wish to do so for their more adventurous readers of literary fiction.-Marc Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Great Britain's answer to Thomas Pynchon outdoes himself with this maddeningly intricate, improbably entertaining successor to Ghostwritten (2000) and Number9Dream (2002). Mitchell's latest consists of six narratives set in the historical and recent pasts and imagined futures, all interconnected whenever a later narrator encounters and absorbs the story that preceded his own. In the first, it's 1850 and American lawyer-adventurer Adam Ewing is exploring endangered primitive Pacific cultures (specifically, the Chatham Islands' native Moriori besieged by numerically superior Maori). In the second, "The Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing" falls (in 1931) into the hands of bisexual musician Robert Frobisher, who describes in letters to his collegiate lover Rufus Sixsmith his work as amanuensis to retired and blind Belgian composer Vivian Ayrs. Next, in 1975, sixtysomething Rufus is a nuclear scientist who opposes a powerful corporation's cover-up of the existence of an unsafe nuclear reactor: a story investigated by crusading reporter Luisa Rey. The fourth story (set in the 1980s) is Luisa's, told in a pulp potboiler submitted to vanity publisher Timothy Cavendish, who soon finds himself effectively imprisoned in a sinister old age home. Mitchell then moves to an indefinite future Korea, in which cloned "fabricants" serve as slaves to privileged "purebloods"-and fabricant Sonmi-451 enlists in a rebellion against her masters. The sixth story, told in its entirety before the novel doubles back and completes the preceding five (in reverse order), occurs in a farther future time, when Sonmi is a deity worshipped by peaceful "Valleymen"-one of whom, goatherd Zachry Bailey, relates the epic tale of hispeople's war with their oppressors, the murderous Kona tribe. Each of the six stories invents a world, and virtually invents a language to describe it, none more stunningly than does Zachry's narrative ("Sloosha's Crossin' and Ev'rythin' After"). Thus, in one of the most imaginative and rewarding novels in recent memory, the author unforgettably explores issues of exploitation, tyranny, slavery, and genocide. Sheer storytelling brilliance. Mitchell really is his generation's Pynchon. Agency: Curtis Brown
From the Publisher
Cloud Atlas is, obviously, a formidable creation. . . . Fellow novelists will find it hard not to heap . . . praise on David Mitchell, whose brilliance takes one’s breath away in a manner not unlike a first experience of Chartres or the Duomo.”
The Globe and Mail

Cloud Atlas is a head rush, both action-packed and chillingly ruminative.”
People

“Mitchell’s range is astonishing, moving effortlessly from elegant genre fiction to satire to high-end literary pyrotechnics….to Mitchell — prodigiously skilled and gloriously ambitious — I can only say, bravo!”
Toronto Star

Cloud Atlas imposes a dizzying series of milieus, characters and conflicts upon us . . . [and] feels like a doggedly expert gloss on various writers and modes.”
The New York Times

“Audacious, dazzling…. Readers who enjoy the 'novel as puzzle' will find much to savor in this original and occasionally very entertaining work.”
Publishers Weekly

“The novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet — not just dazzling, amusing or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I’m grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds, which are all one world, which is, in turn, enchanted by Mitchell’s spell-caster prose, our own.”
—Michael Chabon

Advance UK reviews for Cloud Atlas:

"the third novel from the genre-busting David Mitchell, author of Ghostwritten and the Booker-shortlisted Number9Dream is a remarkable book, made up of six resonating strands; the narrative reaches back into the 19th century, to colonialism and savagery in the Pacific islands, and forwards into a dark future, beyond the collapse of civilisation. It knits together science fiction, political thriller and historical pastiche with musical virtuosity and linguistic exuberance: there won't be a bigger, bolder novel next year."
—Justine Jordan, Guardian, Preview of 2004

"David Mitchell is by no means a complete unknown, but I shall be very surprised if his next book, the sprawling and ambitious Cloud Atlas doesn't propel him into the front rank of novelists. I only wish it had been there for this year's Man Booker judges to consider."
—D J Taylor, Independent, Preview of 2004

"A daunting talent, adept with the global canvas, and able to move from the technological to the spiritual with supernatural ease."
—Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday, Preview of 2004

"Watch out for Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a work of free-wheeling fantasy by a cutting-edge writer."
—David Robson, Sunday Telegraph, Preview of 2004

Praise for David Mitchell:
“Mitchell possesses an amazingly copious and eclectic imagination.”
—William Boyd

“[Ghostwritten is] one of the best first novels I’ve read for a long time. . . . I couldn’t put it down. . . . And it’s even better the second time.”
—A. S. Byatt

“Mitchell has a gift for fiction’s natural pleasures — intricate surprises, insidiously woven narratives, ingenious voices.”
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739305058
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/4/2007
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 789,886
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell co-translated from the Japanese the international bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.

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Read an Excerpt

Thursday, 7th November--

Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints. Through rotting kelp, sea cocoa-nuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a White man, his trowzers & Pea-jacket rolled up, sporting a kempt beard & an outsized Beaver, shoveling & sifting the cindery sand with a teaspoon so intently that he noticed me only after I had hailed him from ten yards away. Thus it was, I made the acquaintance of Dr. Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility. His nationality was no surprise. If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote, that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, 'tis not down on any map I ever saw.

Had the doctor misplaced anything on that dismal shore? Could I render assistance? Dr. Goose shook his head, knotted loose his 'kerchief & displayed its contents with clear pride. "Teeth, sir, are the enameled grails of the quest in hand. In days gone by this Arcadian strand was a cannibals' banqueting hall, yes, where the strong engorged themselves on the weak. The teeth, they spat out, as you or I would expel cherry stones. But these base molars, sir, shall be transmuted to gold & how? An artisan of Piccadilly who fashions denture sets for the nobility pays handsomely for human gnashers. Do you know the price a quarter pound will earn, sir?"

I confessed I did not.

"Nor shall I enlighten you, sir, for 'tis a professional secret!" He tapped his nose. "Mr. Ewing, are you acquainted with Marchioness Grace of Mayfair? No? The better for you, for she is a corpse in petticoats. Five years have passed since this harridan besmirched my name, yes, with imputations that resulted in my being blackballed from Society." Dr. Goose looked out to sea. "My peregrinations began in that dark hour."

I expressed sympathy with the doctor's plight.

"I thank you, sir, I thank you, but these ivories"--he shook his 'kerchief--"are my angels of redemption. Permit me to elucidate. The Marchioness wears dental fixtures fashioned by the afore- mentioned doctor. Next yuletide, just as that scented She-Donkey is addressing her Ambassadors' Ball, I, Henry Goose, yes, I shall arise & declare to one & all that our hostess masticates with cannibals' gnashers! Sir Hubert will challenge me, predictably, 'Furnish your evidence,' that boor shall roar, 'or grant me satisfaction!' I shall declare, 'Evidence, Sir Hubert? Why, I gathered your mother's teeth myself from the spittoon of the South Pacific! Here, sir, here are some of their fellows!' & fling these very teeth into her tortoiseshell soup tureen & that, sir, that will grant me my satisfaction! The twittering wits will scald the icy Marchioness in their news sheets & by next season she shall be fortunate to receive an invitation to a Poorhouse Ball!"

In haste, I bade Henry Goose a good day. I fancy he is a Bedlamite.

Friday, 8th November--

In the rude shipyard beneath my window, work progresses on the jibboom, under Mr. Sykes's directorship. Mr. Walker, Ocean Bay's sole taverner, is also its principal timber merchant & he brags of his years as a master shipbuilder in Liverpool. (I am now versed enough in Antipodese etiquette to let such unlikely truths lie.) Mr. Sykes told me an entire week is needed to render the Prophet- ess "Bristol fashion." Seven days holed up in the Musket seems a grim sentence, yet I recall the fangs of the banshee tempest & the mariners lost o'erboard & my present misfortune feels less acute.

I met...

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