Cloud Cuckoo Land: Masterfully plotted genre-bending epic

Book review: Literary fiction writer Anthony Doerr’s attempt at sci-fi not likely to please puritans

Anthony Doerr. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

Anthony Doerr. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

Traversing genre is a dangerous act; few writers can shape-shift successfully. 
One thinks of Ian McEwan’s recent foray into dystopian fiction with Machines Like Me, which received mixed reviews (these very pages dismissed it) and hostility from genre writers who felt he was treading on their lawns. Or perhaps Doris Lessing who, after winning acclaim as a great chronicler of postcolonialist Africa, embarked on Canopus in Argos: Archives, a five-novel science-fiction sequence, in the 1980s. The reaction was equally as mixed for the future Nobel winner.

Anthony Doerr is clearly made of sterner stuff. Cloud Cuckoo Land isn’t just vastly different from his previous work, the bestselling, Pulitzer-winning All the Light We Cannot See: the new novel is a multi-genre epic that scales time and space – from the siege of Constantinople to cosmic space travellers.

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