David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas. Sceptre, 2004. Pp. 544. UK: ISBN 0340822783. £7.99; US: ISBN 0375507256. $14.95.

Reviewed by Jehoshaphat

This book narrates segments of the lives of six people, in what is effectively first person narrative. The first character is a clerk traveling to Australia on business in the mid 19th Century. His story is told through writing in his daily journal.

The second is set in a series of letters from a destitute musician to his one true love and describes the writing of his first and only successful sextet. In the course of his correspondence, he finds the published journal of the 1850's clerk.

The third is a chapter in a novel telling the story of a reporter who is tasked to expose the dangers of a new power generator after a scientist (the lover of the musician) provides her the details. This novel is set in the 1970s.

The fourth is description of an elderly publisher who, after his latest published author causes a controversy and he makes some money, is blackmailed. His only recourse is to seek out his hateful brother, who plays a ghastly trick on him to get him into hiding... This publisher is sent a manuscript of the novel described above. This is all set in the modern day.

The fifth soul is described by a device called an Orison. It appears to be a recording device which keeps records of legal hearings. This particular hearing features a stem-cell engineered being which has been created as a worker in the fast food services industry — a "fabricant". This is obviously set in the future, where most of the West and Africa has been laid waste by radioactive pollution, culminating in "Deadlands", which are approaching the setting of this Hearing — Korea (or Neo So Corpos). A rebellion has formed against the government, which advocates a legal requirement to purchase goods. The underclasses are comprised of escaped fabricants, and refugees from abroad who have terrible radiation deformities. The ordeal of the publisher survives as a film which this wayward fabricant sees.

The sixth person is described by the narration of his story. This is set in the distant future, in a post-apocolyptic environment reminiscent of Mad Max... The Fabricant of the Korean Court Hearing is worshipped as a God in this period of time.

Mitchell adapts his style to suit not only the means of narration, but also the time period. He masters the future conversational style brilliantly, and the characters which he creates are beautifully crafted and utterly convincing. They have real depth, and there are hidden messages in all of their descriptions.

This book embodies the best of Orwell, Huxley and Greene, whilst maintaining an originality all of its own. The cleverness of the divisions of the stories is just fabulously done, and leaves you hankering for a resolution. Quite apart from anything else, I found myself desperately searching for published works of Nietzche on my bookshelf, which are non-existent...

I thoroughly recommend that you read this for yourself—don't take my word for it!

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