David Mitchell is a writer of the first water.
This is the second book of his that I have read and reviewed for this column (his excellent book “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” being the first). I was inspired to read “Cloud Atlas” by the release of the film of the same name this past month, and the positive reviews and commentary that it has received.
My intention was to read the book first and then go see the film. Instead, as is the way of many well laid plans, my friends insisted that we see it this past weekend and I was powerless to resist. I mention this only by way of saying that, as innovative and intriguing as the movie is, the book is much better.
At first, after seeing the film, I was disappointed that I would now, perhaps, enjoy the book less as a lot of its plot twists and surprises were now “spoiled” for me. However, as I began reading it again I found myself relishing the turn to the next page as much, if not more, than before I saw the film. This is because the writing is wonderful. Some writers excel at creating interesting characters and cultivating their development with a sure touch. Mitchell is one of those writers. Some writers are great at building fantastic worlds and environments for their characters to either break against or triumph over. This Mitchell also does brilliantly.
While it is not my intention to make a direct comparison, I must say that while reading Mitchell’s books I can’t help but think of the works of Melville, and that Mitchell is, at the very least, his literary progeny. The prose is natural and effortless, eloquent and clear. This also explains how, even though the outcomes in “Cloud Atlas” are no longer a mystery to me, the lure of the characters, the environment and the beautiful writing continue to draw me back to the book.
This is much the same thought I had when I read “Moby Dick” again. Even though I know that ultimately (spoiler alert!) the whale wins, it detracts not at all from the pleasure of a timeless book. This one definitely gives time a run for its money.
Other Exlore Staff Picks
1. “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t” by Nate Silver
2. ”Astray” by Emma Donoghue
3. ”Elsewhere” by Richard Russo
4. “The Bloodletter’s Daughter” by Linda Lafferty