I read David Mitchell's Ghostwritten a few years ago and loved it but for some reason the follow-up, number9dream, didn't appeal to me. I'm glad I didn't ignore Cloud Atlas though - it's a wonderful book. Like Ghostwritten, it's a series of short stories, subtly linked. However, where Ghostwritten told each story and the moved on to the next, in Cloud Atlas Mitchell splits them in two, sometimes in mid-sentence. Thus the adventures of Adam Ewing in the South Pacific in the 19th century give way to an English composer in 1930s Europe, which in turn leads into a 1970s conspiracy thriller and so on.
Only one story, the sixth, is told in full. It takes us to a post-apocalyptic future before Mitchell begins completing each of the five remaining narratives.
The narrator of each story has his or her own distinct voice - a remarkable achievement by Mitchell, who shows a keen ear for linguistic fashions and quirks. The post-apocalyptic story has its own language, in many ways reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange.
There is no central story to tie the smaller ones together as there was in Ghostwritten. Instead it is the themes that do the job: science, immortality, art and commerce are all strong themes. But for me the key theme is imprisonment - all the characters are in some way trapped, either literally or by circumstance.
It's no surprise that this fascinating book was nominated for the Booker prize.