Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004). I sometimes feel like I gush a little too much on this blog (maybe because I'm easy to please, or maybe because I read things I know I'm going to like), but at the risk of overgushing and giving the hard sell to my fellow DAFFODILS, I loved loved loved loved loved this book.
If you and I get into a discussion about aesthetics, you will soon realize that my favorite aspect of a story is its structure. It isn't the only thing, but a crappy structure (or a bad ending) can ruin a movie or book for me, and a solid structure can lift up an ordinary story and make it into something worth exploring. Cloud Atlas has one of the most unique and well-executed structures I've seen in a long time, and that alone is enough to hook me as a reader.
Here is the structure in a nutshell, without giving too much away: six stories, each interrupted halfway through, except for the sixth, which is told in its entirety. After the center story ends, we finish the fifth story, then the fourth, then the third, then the second, then the first. Sometime during each story except the first, a connection between that story and the preceding story (which seem to have nothing to do with each other) is revealed.
Luckily, Mitchell offers way more than just structure in this engaging exploration of the past, present, and future; cultural domination; nuclear politics; and escape escape escape. And he does all that while juggling the stories of a 19th century notary on a ship in the south seas, a risk taking bisexual composer taking refuge from his debtors as an amanuensis in Belgium, a mid-70s California journalist investigating nuclear cover-ups, a snarky British publisher who has been locked up in a nursing home against his will, a revolutionary clone in corpratist future Korea, and a plucky young man and his mysterious visitor on post-apocalyptic Hawaii. Whew.
Mitchell writes all of that in a way that makes sense, sticks to the structure without being too cutesy, and tackles writing styles ranging from a mid-century epistolary novel to a clockwork-orange science fiction vocabulary explosion. Plus it is fun to read!
I'll set a discussion of the themes and many complexities of this novel aside for our book club meeting and leave it at this: you should read this book. And I should read it again.