I tried. I really did. But I just couldn’t finish ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. The whole concept/plot was just too damn weird.
I’m quite proud of the fact that there are very few books which I have never finished but this one definitely defeated me. ‘Cloud Atlas’ interweaves six different stories which include the 19th century Pacific journal of Adam Ewing, the letters of Robert Frobisher living in Belgium in the 1930s, a thriller set in the 1970s, a comic story about someone who gets trapped in a nursing home, a futuristic dystopian world… and this is the point where I gave up after nearly 200 pages. Each of the first five stories are interrupted half-way through and are then resolved in reverse chronological order (although I didn’t get far enough to read these conclusions). The summary sounded intriguing and the links between the different episodes are made fairly obvious, but that didn’t really make it any easier to follow and it was difficult to digest it all in detail. Having read the Wikipedia summary of what happened after the point where I gave up, it doesn’t look like I missed much.
I suppose ‘Cloud Atlas’ has never been on my official TBR list because I always thought (rightly, as it turned out) that it was the sort of book I would fail to finish and I tend to avoid those if I can. However, the film version has recently been released which drew my attention to it again so I thought now might be a good time to investigate the book. The film has had decidedly mixed reviews and having attempted to tackle the book, I can definitely see why. Even if you were familiar with the book, I can imagine the film is probably still incomprehensible because to me, the book itself is pretty incomprehensible and cramming it all in to a two or three hour film is surely neither going to improve it nor make it any less baffling.
The positive thing I can say about ‘Cloud Atlas’ is that it is an imaginative, ambitious, sprawling tapestry of a novel which shows off Mitchell’s talent for writing in several different styles. On that level, I can admire it… from a safe distance. When it comes to actually sitting down and reading it, my appreciation of the book dwindled somewhat. Overall, reading ‘Cloud Atlas’ is a bit like wading through thick sludge. It requires real effort and is ultimately not very rewarding.
Did I give up on ‘Cloud Atlas’ too soon? Or was I wise to quit while I still possessed my sanity? Which other ‘classic’ books are best admired from a safe distance?