Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I added this to my wishlist after reading a review somewhere last year (I just checked the blog where I thought I'd hear of it, but that wasn't it), but even with the review, I still didn't have a very clear idea of how the novel was going to resolve itself. I knew that novel consisted of six stories that were interrelated in some way, and that started and broke off in the middle, only to resume again later. The stories are ordered chronologically, and all use different genres. The first, for example, is the journal of a notary in 1849/1850 on a sea voyage. This one ends mid-sentence, and is followed by a series of letters written in 1931. Other genres include a thriller set in the '70s, a first person narrative set in the late 20th/early 21st century that reminded me of a modern day version of a Henry Fielding farce, a futuristic story told in an interview format with a clone, and finally, a post-apocalyptic narrative that reads much like an oral telling transcribed.
All the stories somehow reference the previous story with explanations of why they break off they way they did (for example, one story was a manuscript submitted to a publisher, but the publisher only received the first half etc.). My two favorite stories were the epistolary one told by a young crook/musician who writes a friend of his experiences with a famous composer and his involvement with the man's family, and the interview with Somni, a clone worker that became self-aware and published a manifesto with the potential to disrupt the current societal views and norms. Each story was interesting in its own right, but I also hurried to get through some to get back to the other stories. In some cases, the endings were not quite what I wanted or slightly unfulfilling but it all worked very well. For example, the first story took me a while to get into given the style (19th century journal) but I quite enjoyed its ending. While I know many people found the Englishman who ends up in a nursing home rather funny, that was my least favorite of all of them. I also had mixed feelings on the sixth story which was the both the last story and the first one to be concluded simply because it was written in a dialect.
The first story discusses the enslavement and annihilation of an indigenous people in New Zealand/Australia as part of its plot, and while each story has a different focus, they all show some of the darker sides of human society and human nature. By the end (or middle), the narrative is set in a post apocalyptic world after humanity has nearly destroyed itself. Even in the previous futuristic story, humanity is well on the way to self-destruction while also enjoying luxury and comfort to the extreme. Most of the narratives also refer to a cloud atlas or atlas of clouds at some point or another (the musician titles his composition Cloud Atlas Sextet, and as he explains to his friend, the piece is structured in the exact same way as this novel). Another common piece throughout the stories is a birthmark that looks like a comet.
While the structure could have easily turned gimmicky, Mitchell actually did a very good job. I wanted to know what happened with each narrative so it was hard to determine if I wanted a current piece to end so I could get closer to knowing what happened in previous pieces, or if I wanted to stay in the story.