David Mitchell’s magnum opus was the subject of discussion in our most recent book club, so I thought I’d watch the 2012 film adaptation by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. As far as unfilmable novels go, Cloud Atlas is a doozy: six separate stories set in six different timelines, each written in a different prose style and covering a different genre, from 19th-century pastiche to science fiction. Moreover, how do you visually translate a book whose chief attraction is Mitchell’s virtuoso use of language? This would have been enough to make most filmmakers run away screaming, so kudos to Wachowskis and Tykwer for even attempting something this ambitious and daunting. While I didn’t think that the movie succeeded overall, it’s a kind of high-aiming failure you can’t help but admire.
What a book. Its scope and ambition made me feel like I’ve read multiple books and been away on a very very long journey. At one point it even gets cheekily self-referential when one of its protagonists wonders out loud, “Revolutionary or gimmicky?” Neither, from my perspective, but it’s one hell of a remarkable book. It can frustrate and demand patience at times, but it’s immensely rewarding the more you stick with it.