Hopscotching over centuries, Cloud Atlas likewise jumps in and out of half a dozen different styles, all of which display the author's astonishing talent for ventriloquism, and end up fitting together to make this a highly satisfying, and unusually thoughtful, addition to the expanding ‘puzzle book’ genre...but the puzzle of Cloud Atlas isn't in the book, it is the book … What all these stories have in common is that each draws its lifeblood from the same heart of darkness. Cloud Atlas is a work of fiction, ultimately, about the myriad misuses of fiction: the seductive lies told by grifters, CEOs, politicians and others in the service of expanding empires and maintaining power.
Mitchell's book seemed like everything I couldn't do. It's a nested box of stories, each one a virtuosic performance in an entirely different style from the last … Civilization as we know it ends, in the novel, and the center section is a post-apocalyptic folktale in which only fragments of language and culture remain. Then Mitchell picks up his abandoned stories, one by one, and tells what happened … The book isn't a cold display of cleverness: It has a heart, and a fierce intelligence and a single, recurring soul.
Cloud Atlas imposes a dizzying series of milieus, characters and conflicts upon us...Each story is written quite differently – so much so that Cloud Atlas feels like a doggedly expert gloss on various writers and modes … The novel is frustrating not because it is too smart but because it is not nearly as smart as its author … To write a novel that resembles no other is a task that few writers ever feel prepared to essay. David Mitchell has written such a novel – or almost has. It its need to render every kind of human experience, Cloud Atlas finds itself staring into the reflective waters of Joyce's Ulysses.