David Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas in 2004 and it has been recently re-published because of interest in the movie based on the novel. I am a huge fan of David Mitchell, but almost passed over this book because of the conflicting reviews I read when it came out. There was no in between, either the reader hated it or loved it. Well, I am in the latter category. If you enjoyed Jacob de Zoet you will most likely enjoy this book as well. Mitchell has chosen to tell six separate stories in the novel which together cover about 1000 years. Each story is told in a different voice, yet all are connected like a Russian nesting doll. The author's point is to show how we are connected to the past and the future and how history repeats itself.
Mitchell has chosen a pattern of two stories in the past, two in the present and two in the future. These stories are not in chronological order, though the reader conceivably could follow each story in its thread before turning to the others. Mitchell has said, My idea was to write a novel whose narratives would be returned to and completed in reverse order. So, the first story which takes place in 1831 is also the last to be concluded. Our first narrator is Adam Ewing, an adventurous trader who is on a ship ferrying goods from New Zealand back to England. His life becomes entangles with a Moriori native and a nefarious doctor, a quack and thief.
The second tale takes place between the World Wars, and is told by Robert Frobisher, an Evelyn Waugh type character who is a bisexual young composer working under an unpleasant mentor in Zedelghem in Belgian.
The third tale takes place in California in the 1970s and our narrator is a reporter named Louis Rey. Her story is sort of an Elroy Leonard type tale involving nuclear power and crooked corporate heads who are up to nothing good. She becomes a target when she discovers their motives and dishonesty.
The fourth story is in contemory times and is presented in a the farcical manner of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Tim Cavendish through his own greed and stupidity finds himself committed in a home for elderly dementia patients. This middle tale provides a good laugh as he and his elderly companions plot and effect their escape.
The fifth story takes place in a distopian future much like that of Blade Runner. It is set in Korea where a genetically engineered fabricant named Sonmi escapes her fate in a crazy world run by corporate empires.
The sixth tale takes place in a post-apocalyptic world set on the big island of Hawaii. Small pockets of humanity exist separated from each other. They live in tribes and bring us back to our original story of the Moriori. They have little memory of the world of the past or of previous learning and inventions which have all been lost.
Finally the book ends with our Ewing character just as it began. As you progress through the book, you begin to see how these characters are connected. It is a fascinating, imaginative journey through time. I loved this book, but it will not be to everyone's liking. I watched the movie when I finished the book. The book and movie compliment each other, but as is often the case, the book is superior to the movie, though I enjoyed seeing the actors showing up as a character in each story. If you would like to read an imaginative and entertaining ride through history, I highly recommend this book.