Everyone knows that books are always better than their big screen adaptations. No star-studded film, however faithfully rendered, is ever going to match up to the literary genius of Dickens or Austen, nor can a two-hour dash through a murder mystery thriller ever compare with days of getting lost in a so-gripping-you-stop-watching-telly novel. Admittedly, there are times when special effects and CGI can bring a story to life on screen brilliantly (I’ve been partial to a Christmas holidays cinema trip to see Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings in the past myself) but most of the time you should definitely read the book first before venturing out to see its celluloid counterpart – not least so that you don’t witness a load of spoilers that would seriously compromise your enjoyment of the book. Case in point: Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’m still mad at myself for going to see it at the cinema first, because there’s a MASSIVE spoiler at the end that haunted me the whole way through when I finally got round to reading the book (McEwan is now my favourite author of all time, by the way).
Also falling into this must read first category is Cloud Atlas. Mitchell’s novel is, quite simply, brilliant. Comprised of multiple different stories that unfold over a span of several hundred years, it’s one of those books that can quite rightly be called epic. Every story, from a 19th century doctor in the pacific islands to a Korean robot worker in the far distant future, is captivating in its own right, but it’s the way the plots intertwine that is truly astonishing. It’s like six amazing novels in one. But don’t just take my word for it. Reviewers have called it ‘extraordinary,’ ‘visionary,’ and ‘a masterpiece.’ No wonder it won the Man Booker Prize in 2004.
When I read Cloud Atlas over Christmas, I loved it. (And I think I would have loved it even more if I hadn’t had to read a load of the plot when I wrote up a feature on the film for work. Tsk.) It’s a very ambitious book to attempt to adapt for the movies, but reviews from America, where it was released in October, suggest directors the Wachowskis (they of The Matrix fame) and Tom Tykwer have done a pretty good job. They’ve got the likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw and Susan Sarandon playing 4, 5 or 6 characters each. So, obviously, I want to go and see it, and so should you. And while there isn’t one massive Atonement-style spoiler as such, this is definitely the sort of book you should read first. Which is why I’m giving you six weeks notice. That’s plenty of time. Also, Cloud Atlas is reported to be one of the books most donated to Oxfam (because it sold so many copies, and because it’s a bit too complicated for your average Twilight fan to get through) so you should be able to pick up a copy on the cheap very easily. Here, why not find your local Oxfam Books shop. Happy reading and – eventually – watching.
Cloud Atlas is released in cinemas in the UK on 2nd February 2013. I’m not even going to watch the trailer, but here it is anyway.