David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas is compared on the back flap and elsewhere by Michael Chabon and the author, to a series of russian dolls each nestled inside the others, or a chinese puzzle, or a woman about to give birth to a child who is already present, etc. All of which are to be metaphors for the nature of time. The very long book is a little disappointing. The six or seven different stories are all written in a different style, each a sort of pastiche it seems to me, of----oh Finnegan's Wake, Master and Commander, The Voyage of the Narwhal, and at least one or two science fiction novels. They are all various linked by a birthmark, and therefore signify re incarnation. The book is very compelling in some ways, and certainly very ambitious. Ambitious beyond the powers of the author, perhaps. Nothing quite works and it creaks a little in not working. The grand sentiments of the novel are grand and worthwhile so it is hard to be critical about the book, especially in this particular time in world history, or the end of world history. I must say, I was most captivated by the "robot" sections, which seem to be the closest to the author's heart. So many contemporary novelists seem to be turning to either science or historical fiction as anchors. Mitchell turns to these and more, but the variety and the pastiche eats his novel from the inside. In any case, nothing in the book really reaches the magnificence of the first couple of paragraphs of Colm Toibin's The Master, which is graceful, full of understanding and utterly true in a remarkable way about waking up in the morning, or maybe anytime.