This was the third novel by Mitchell I've read and I greatly enjoyed Thousand Autumns
and Black Swan Green
, so I was stunned by Cloud Atlas
and not in a good way. I'm in the emperor-has-no-clothes camp, as I've expressed in the What are We Reading thread. I found Cloud Atlas
to be several derivative stories linked together by a facile notion. The execution of neither the individual stories nor the underlying theme resulted in a payoff.
As has been said upthread, the individual stories were pastiches of well-known works. I assume the point was to show Mitchell's versatility and they did up to a point, except that for me none of the individual stories had sufficient spark or originality; none of them would have succeeded as stand-alone works. So Mitchell has to try to buffalo us with an overriding theme to justify yoking them together, and I assume we're supposed to regard it as deep. A failure.
On the positive side, as a read it wasn't bad, especially the first "half." The stories were interesting enough and competently written, as you'd expect. I found the second half more tedious; it wasn't that interesting to revisit the stories that hadn't been all engaging in the first place, especially as it became increasingly obvious there wasn't going to be a creative and satisfying resolution, some clever twist.
Originally Posted by sun surfer
Who were the reincarnates? The easy guess is the protagonist or hero of each story - Adam Ewing / Robert Frobisher / Luisa Rey / Timothy Cavendish / Sonmi 451 / Meronym. I think all had the birthmark except maybe Adam Ewing?
I didn't assume they were all reincarnates, just that they all had some connection. Timothy Cavendish, for example, I think was only connected to Luisa by the book about her story, and to Sonmi because of the film made from his memoir. As with much of the book, I found the reincarnation aspect cheesy (criminy, a birthmark!) and much preferred the happenstance connections. And of course for those of us who also read Black Swan Green
there was the happenstance connection of Eva Crommelynck to Jason. Again, there's not enough there to justify Mitchell's going meta on us, and I think it's one more aspect of his trying to dazzle the reader, by giving us the wink that he knows he's playing cheap tricks.