Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell This book kicks my ass. I love it. David Mitchell is that guy who is able to take all of that airy-fairy po-mo jargon and marry it with actual story to produce something worthwhile. The premise behind the book sounds pretentious as all heck, but, to me at least, it isn’t that at all. Mitchell just tells six, count ‘em six, great stories with real panache. This makes _Cloud Atlas_ sound more like a short story collection than a true novel, but Mitchell pulls off making this both by having all of the stories nested within each other, both structurally and temporally, with backwards and forwards references to each other throughout. It really is an impressive achievement.

On top of that is the fact that there is something here for just about everyone, the novel starts off with a couple of stories that could be classed as historical fiction, moves into a murder mystery, changes to tragic farce, and then ventures into pre and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Some stories are better than others, but they are all well worth reading. Despite the differences between each of the stories there is an overall thematic arc of how horrible people can be to each other mingled with the hope we are still able to experience in the midst of this that Mitchell is playing with and he manages to find a wide variety of ways in which to explore it. He is able to pack the novel with tragedy, action, humour and thoughtfulness.

Details on the stories follow. I'm not sure how much these descriptions might give away important details to new readers, so I've marked them as spoilers just in case. We start off with the first person narration of a hapless notary in the South Pacific of the 1850’s who is caught in the snares of an unscrupulous con-man. This then moves to the story of a libertine composer in the early twentieth century who reads the account of the notary in a manuscript and is himself writing letters to a friend and former lover about his misadventures as amanuensis to an older composer as he is on the run from creditors. We then switch to the ‘novelisation’ of an investigative reporter trying to ferret out corporate greed and corruption at the instigation of the afore-mentioned friend and lover of the young composer who is now an old man. This in turn becomes the manuscript that lands on the desk of a vanity publisher on the run from his mob creditors as he falls into the clutches of an asylum-like old age home. His story becomes a cautionary tale seen in film by a near-future slave clone in Korea who testifies at her own execution. This then becomes a holographic relic held by a tribe of post-apocalyptic survivors in a Riddley Walker-like tale of hope and oppression.

Each tale, except for the central/final one, is cut in half only to continue where it left off in the latter part of the book. It’s an impressive structural achievement that is made more impressive by the thematic and narrative hooks that link all of these tales together. All in all I highly recommend this book. It manages to be both entertaining and enlightening in just about equal measure and never loses its sense of story in the name of literary tricks regardless of the obvious care with which it was designed.