Cloud Atlas, UK vs. US Editions

isbn9780340822784.jpgDavid Mitchell’s 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, skyrocketed here in the states after the film adaptation starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry was released in 2012. Now it’s making headlines again. A British professor has uncovered multiple textual differences between the UK edition, published by Sceptre, and the US edition, published by Modern Library.

In “You have to keep track of your changes,” an article published on the Open Library of Humanities last week, Martin Paul Eve of Birkbeck, University of London, begins with a discussion of textual permanence in the digital age, citing recent Amazon e-book issues. He goes on:

“Similarly, a comparison of the North-American digital edition of David Mitchell’s genre- and time- hopping novel, Cloud Atlas (2004), with the UK version conjures forth a fresh set of anxieties about literary production. For it quickly emerges that the texts are very different and that readers of Cloud Atlas based in the US are likely to encounter a novel that stands starkly apart from that bearing the same title in the UK.”

9780812994711 copy.jpgEve’s discovery is quite significant for literary scholars and book historians as well as for casual readers who might enjoy the challenge of spotting the variants themselves. Collectors of Mitchell will also now be attuned to the variation. As Mitchell explained to Eve, the textual discrepancies are the result of mis-management between publishers--some substantial changes made by UK editors were never shared with stateside counterparts. That may mean the US edition is closer in content to Mitchell’s original manuscript.

Which version of the text then has priority, or is “definitive”? Mitchell told the Guardian, “...in the case of Cloud Atlas, both work. Not that I have the faintest memory, after all these years, what the differences even are.”

Image at top: UK edition, via Sceptre.
Image at bottom: US edition, via Modern Library.

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