This acclaimed work has six novellas embedded inside one another like Russian dolls. Considered one of the most important works of the 21st century it is a complete waste of time.
My addition has a laudatory blurb by Byatt on it and it reminds me of what I disliked about Possession, so I am not surprised to see Byatt raving about the work here. Mitchell takes n 6 distinct voices as he writes. He writes in 6 different styles. The problem is that he doesn't write in any of these styles all that well. For instance, "Half Lives" is a straight ahead not very good mystery thriller. It has nothing all that great about it. The post-apocalyptic tale is not very interesting. I read a lot of post apocalyptic stuff and quite frankly this is neither interesting or original. In general, while Mitchell takes on the prose style of other writers successfully, he does not take on the prose style of writers who are a pleasure to read. The plots of the novellas are straight-forward and boring. The characters are flat.
My biggest single beef is about the profound laziness of the ideas. I suppose that the main character is meant to be the same soul continuously reincarnated. Now, an obvious observation, is apart from a continuous birthmark, there is nothing about this character that is preserved through the incarnations. A better (competent?) author could use this to explore issues of identity or whatever, but it is really just a device. The whole palendromic structure of the novel, seems pointless. Furthermore, ideas are not explored in an interesting way. Much of the work concerns repression and escape. But it does not amount to much more than "repression = bad", "escape = good".
I find it frustrating that people are fooled by gimicky novels like this one. However one good thing that has come out of this for me, is to be wary of any novel with a quote about how good it is from Michael Chabon on the cover.
Interestingly, I just checked Mitchell's bio and he received a BA and MA in literature. I increasingly think that people who have received an education in literature should not be allowed to write novels. It is all meaningful illusions to things and supports the literature pseudo-rebellious group-think (Nietzsche = good, Descartes = bad, etc).
Anyway, don't bother with this book.