This is the only book so far on this list that I will absolutely read again. Pure storytelling magic. It put me in mind of the Tom Waits lyric, "I wanna know... we all wanna know... how's it gonna end?" I bought my movie tie-in edition at some airport bookstore or other several years ago, and I've been intimidated by it the whole time I've owned it. It felt so good to get to it, and I enjoyed it so much, that in my journal it says "I finished Cloud Atlas today and now anything feels possible."
As a storyteller, David Mitchell's operating on the magician-level of Italo Calvino (think If on a Winter's Night a Traveller), telling six very seperate stories - in some cases happening centuries apart - any of which a less extravagantly talented writer would be proud to have put out in a single novel. The six stories intertwine and overlap in ways that will leave you savouring the puzzle long after you put it down. This is a book that left me wanting to reread it on the spot - while equally compelling me to find anything and everything else David Mitchell has written (my girlfriend read The Bone Clocks last year and now I can't wait).
Cloud Atlas is a spectacular mix of old and new: it's made of ground-breaking dystopian secret-agent science fiction, far-flung apocalyptic societies, edge-of-your-seat 1970s espionage, and at the same time is as cozily old-fashioned as a roaring fire. The stories (with names like "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" and "The First Luisa Rey Mystery") are unveiled in an intimate, brandy-snifter Victorian style, employing long-lost diaries, half-recovered manuscripts, or letters found amongst the belongings of the recently murdered.
This is a book to curl up with and disappear into. It's a high wire act. And like Calvino's If on a Winter's Night, it's a performance that's not only virtuosic, but which also glories in the very possibilities of books themselves. I turned the pages in awe, and I wanted to know (we all wanna know...) how's it gonna end? I just didn't want it to have to end in order for me to find out.
ps. I saw the Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer movie of it when it first came out four years ago and loved it. And I have nothing against movie tie-in copies of books (in fact I often kinda like them, unless that book is Cold Mountain). I'm now looking forward to reseeing and rereading Cloud Atlas.