Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book #2: Cloud Atlas

I've had Cloud Atlas on my shelf for some time now, and have wanted to read it for ages. I'm one of those people who, when I have a book on my shelf that comes out in movie form, I stubbornly refuse to see the movie until I've read the book. (It's why I have yet to see Oscar and Lucinda, despite loving Ralph Fiennes. HOW old is that movie now?? Book still sitting here, unread.)

So when Cloud Atlas came out to generally mixed reviews, I thought maybe for a change I won't bemoan the fact I didn't read the book first, and instead I will simply read the book. Just after Christmas I picked it up and read it through our trip to Florida in January.

And it is honestly unlike any book I've ever read.

The book contains six separate storylines that at first don't appear to have anything to do with one another. The first story ends mid-sentence, which caused me at first to think I had a faulty book missing a signature (I went back and forth checking the page numbers before realizing it was intentional... not surprising, given I was one of those people who thought my cable had cut out at the very end of The Sopranos series finale). After the second story ends mid-thought, I began realizing there was something else going on. And then motifs began popping up from one story to the next.

Moving from an ill man's diary entries on a 19th century ship through to a society in the very, very distant future — and then backwards back to the ship — the book spans centuries, and in doing so has a very important message. Nothing that will hit you over the head (in fact, I'm quite certain a number of readers have probably finished this book and thought, Well, what the hell was THAT?!) but if you can see the ties that connect one story to the next, you'll really begin to enjoy it. (The first concrete one happens between the second and third.)

I have SO MUCH to say about this book, but can't because I don't want to spoil it for you. If you are a Lost fan (and if you're reading this blog, there's a very high likelihood you are), I think you'll like this book. It's challenging, philosophical, laugh-out-loud funny at times, and so beautifully written that David Mitchell will make you feel inferior no matter how good a writer you think you are. He plays with so many styles in this — journalling, epistolary, PG Wodehouse–type British comedy, noir detective story, and science fiction — and writes each one like that's his only style. I can't say enough good things about this book. So I'll just tell you to trust me on this and give it a shot.

And in the meantime, maybe I'll finally bring myself to see the movie. While reading the book, I kept thinking, "How could anyone have possibly adapted this to film?" While I've heard it's disappointing, I'm interested and intrigued to see the attempt.

OK, what's the second book you've read this year?


Shimon said...

Ok. That's the second time Cloud Atlas has come up (high) on my radar this week, which means i'm definitely going to check it out.
My book #2 was The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Was totally drawn in to the characters, especially the shortstop around who the story mostly revolves.

Andrew said...

I've read the book and watched the movie and found the latter a good effort and a fine movie altogether but to actually adapt Cloud Atlas quasi-faithfully you'll have to make a mini-series.

I'm currently reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods

The Question Mark said...

I've yet to read the book, Nik, but the movie was FANTASTIC. It's on my Top 5 films of 2012, no question.

The make-up was so well done that people in the audience reacted with gasps (yeah, gasps!) during the end credits when a series of quick cuts revealed just how many characters each actor/actress played.

EvaHart said...

Coincidentally Cloud Atlas is also the second book I have read/am reading this year. I'm around half way through it-I think- and so far I'm really enjoying it. It's amazing how effortlessly the style changes from each time period and I can't wait to find out how it ends!

Next I plan to read The Girl Who kicked the Hornet's nest or The Host. I think I must be in a bit of a reading phase of books that have been recently adapted to films!

Fred said...

Nikki, like a lot of people I've got thast pile of books waiting beside the desk just begging to be read. Sadly, not Cloud Atlas, but I managed to get half way through Rushdie's Satanic Verses before other things came up. Now that book, and all his other stuff (essays included, like Imaginary Homelands and Step Across this Line sit waiting to be finished, along with J. M Coetze and Joseph Conrad.

Maybe a good compromise is to watch the movie of Cloud Atlas, along with Life of Pi. I can hardly wait to get a blue ray of Midnight's Children.

Nikki Stafford said...

Fred: Life of Pi is a FANTASTIC adaptation of the book. Just amazing. Have you read the book?

I've actually been working my way through Midnight's Children for the past 4 months or so... but have only really been working at it for the last month. Turns out it gets really great in the second half of the book. It's just getting there that was the trouble. I love it now. ;)

Nikki Stafford said...

Shimon: I've heard amazing things about The Art of Fielding. I bought it for my husband, so it's here whenever I want to steal it. Maybe I'll add that one to my 2013 list.

Troy Blosser said...

The movie was absolutely incredible - easily one of the best films of 2012.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why it didn't find an audience - it's such a stunning achievement. The effects, acting, and directing are amazing (and the score is PERFECT). Can't wait to see it again on video in May. And if you haven't seen it, check out the awesome 5 minute trailer:

The Original Scroll said...

Interesting, when I heard that the movie of Cloud Atlas isn't maybe all that good, I was relieved that now I don't have to read the book right away as I don't feel the need to see the movie - maybe someday.
The reason I picked up my Book #2 though, is that it's being made into a series. I'm very familiar with the stubbornness of reading books first - I still feel that I was cheated out of the pleasure of reading Atonement and Revolutionary Road and I promised myself: never again.
So Book #2 was Jonathan Strange & mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke about two wizards in 19th century England who among other things help to defeat Napoleon and generally 'bring magic back to England'. I must say my hopes were bigger for this book - I really liked the last third, but oh does it take a long time to get there!
Hopefully the series will be better (and I'm definitely looking forward to it).

yourblindspot said...

Loved loved loved Cloud Atlas. Just finally read it myself late last year, and I'm looking forward to reading it again now that I have a better grasp on the total picture. Sure I'll get around to the movie eventually.

Still working on Olmstead's Far Bright Star but work is really cutting into my leisure time so far this year. In the meantime, I've finally read Sum by David Eagleman. Are you familiar? It's a collection of short tales, each one of which is a different theoretical imagining of the afterlife. Absolutely fascinating.

TomWill said...

Glad you read Cloud Atlas. I listened to the audiobook and thought something was wrong with my mp3 player when the first break occured!
I think the people who were disappointed in the film are the ones who have not read the book. I always like see how produces/screenwriters/actors interpret a print story. I thought the movie people did a good job with Cloud Atlas - it is such a BIG, complicated story and their audience consisted of those that knew the story along with newbies. My wife had not read the book and enjoyed the movie-though she wants to see it again on DVD to put it all together.

Fred said...

Nikki, when I began MIdnight's Children I made the assumption I was going to have trouble with the language and how it was goign to "sound" in my head. It's not just the names, but Rushdie's phrasing which can throw a reader. So I went and ordered the book (complete) on cd. Wow! What a difference it made, and I must say hearing the book made a lot more sense of its literary character than reading it silently.

The idea was one I had pursued many years ago when I listened to the comeplete Joyce Ulysses on old LPs from the library. Joyce is someone whose writing has to be heard, more than read. Will also get a copy of Life of Pi when the blue ray comes out.

erin said...

This has been on my library list for ages! I would really like to read it, but since I am trying to BUY less, am waiting oh so patiently for my number to come up on the library list.

My second book of 2013 was "The Brief History of the Dead" by Kevin Brockmeier. I loved this book. I read it in like 2 days. The book is an intertwining tale of what happens in our reality and what happens in the world of the dead.