Best of the Millennium

#3: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

By posted at 10:30 am on September 24, 2009 13

coverI read Cloud Atlas with two contradictory impulses: first to let loose a yodel, dance a fandango, wrestle an alligator, seize strangers by the hair and hold them firmly until they, too, read this shockingly beautiful Matryoshka doll of a book; second, to pout alone in the darkness under my desk. My first reaction was as a dazzled reader who saw each movement of the book as David Mitchell one-upping himself with his genre-bending (historical, mystery, science fiction), his sublime prose, his broad and breathtaking ideas. The other was as a writer who was intimidated almost to petrification by the mere idea that such a book exists and was written by someone of my generation. It is hard not to make sweeping pronouncements after having lived this book, and, still under its spell three years after I read it, I would say: yes, yes, yes, this is the way novels should be written, with such electric ambition, with such exhilarating sweep.

Read an excerpt from Cloud Atlas.
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13 Responses to “#3: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell”

  1. Toby
    at 11:08 am on September 24, 2009

    Personally I prefer the GHOSTWRITTEN…

  2. Matt
    at 11:26 am on September 24, 2009

    Damn straight, Cloud Atlas.

  3. EH
    at 12:20 pm on September 24, 2009

    Cloud Atlas is so good. I’m surprised it’s not at #1.

  4. Grant
    at 5:26 pm on September 24, 2009

    Sorry, it’s a fine novel…but number 2 best novel published since 2000? This ranking of the top books of the new millenium is just turning out to be bizarre.

  5. Tom B.
    at 10:17 pm on September 24, 2009

    I prefer Ghostwritten as well. I stopped dead at the sci-fic section of Cloud Atlas, which I thought too artificial — but maybe I’ll give it another shot someday.

  6. Cat
    at 1:20 am on September 25, 2009

    Yeah, I thought this was going to be number one. Or maybe I just knew that it was my personal number one and therefore hoped? Glad to see it in in the top five, though.

  7. Zeno Cosini
    at 4:58 am on September 28, 2009

    Dunno, I think there’s something too self-conscious about Cloud Atlas’s virtuosity – too ingratiating. Some of the sections work well – didn’t like the science fiction bits because I think they’re overly derivative, especially the central section which (as the author freely admits) owes a great deal to Riddley Walker without repaying the debt by doing anything that Russell Hoban didn’t.

    He is very good, no doubt, and I hoover all his books up as soon as they’re published… but I (unfashionably) prefer Number 9 Dream…

  8. Stephen Crowe
    at 6:08 am on September 28, 2009

    Even allowing for the inherent (and I assume intended) humour of announcing the “best books of the millennium” in the middle of 2009, Cloud Atlas is a strange choice. I guarantee that half the people who voted for it will be embarrassed about it in a few years’ time. If indeed they remember the book at all. It is often quite entertaining, but it is ambitious in only the narrowest and most modish sense, in that Mitchell writes in a number of different styles. This is the literary equivalent of a fashion designer of the 80’s being praised for producing the largest shoulder pads.

    In any other terms you might choose it is, frankly, not that great. And certainly not original. There isn’t a single one of the six stories in the book that can’t be found elsewhere (and better). The detective thriller is just plain bad. And the moral message that wraps the whole thing up manages to be both condescending and childish. To the expression of wonder that this book was written by someone of our generation, I can only reply, “what other generation would bother?”

    Really, Cloud Atlas’s place on this list epitomises the problem with the whole enterprise: how many of these books will last even into the next decade, never mind the next 991 years? How about you just retitle this feature “The Last 15 Books We Remember Reading Of The Millennium (So Far)”?

  9. Toby
    at 10:18 am on September 29, 2009

    @ Tom B — I actually liked the sci fi parts of CLOUD the best — which surprised me. Don’t remember which off the top of my head, maybe e.g. the music one, but some of the others I found nearly unreadable.

    GHOSTWRITTEN totally contrived, but I totally bought the contrivance. And loved the idea of the little communicable narrative spark/genie that was passed on from character to character.

  10. Fiction Writers Review » Blog Archive » Powell’s Puddly Awards
    at 2:09 pm on January 18, 2010

    [...] nominees range from David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the [...]

  11. JCD
    at 4:30 pm on March 10, 2010

    I must say, I loved Cloud Atlas, and am thrilled to see it on here. While it’s true that any one of the stories that make it up has been outdone within its genre, it has to be read in the context of the greater whole. Each story shows up in some form in the next, which in some way calls into question the veracity of the one outside it. But then the stories also depend on what came before for their depth of meaning and emotional core, and outlast that which comes after them. It’s not only a structural trick, upending the directionality of narrative, it’s an epistemological one as well. And for the author to pull it off without it seeming irrelevant or external to the greater narrative set this book apart from other works with a similar ambition.

  12. Cloud Atlas Reviews |
    at 8:26 pm on August 31, 2010

    [...] The Millions [...]

  13. Jennean
    at 3:37 am on September 24, 2012

    I agree, best book I’ve ever read in my life, next to 100 years of solitude . I listened to the audio book too, and it was so good, perfect narration!

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