With six narratives that are literally twined together in the hands and thoughts of the characters, Cloud Atlas is an absolutely fantastic exploration of time, genre, and connections.
Mitchell weaves the six sections, yet still gives each a distinct flavor. To be honest, if each narrative was its own book, I’m not sure I would’ve picked any of them off a shelf if I were only to read their titles and summaries. But that’s the wonderful thing about reading: it expands your horizons even when you don’t expect it.
Adam Ewing, who journals about his Pacific voyage, grew on me the most; his character—and the plot of his tale—develops a bit slowly at first but makes it worth the wait. Ewing is literally interrupted midsentence by my beloved Robert Frobisher’s letters to his beloved Rufus Sixsmith. As a musician, I relate with Frobisher’s enthusiasm for music and wish his Cloud Atlas Sextet existed in reality.
Luisa Rey discovers the first half of Frobisher’s letters in the midst of her journalistic adventures. I’ve never really gotten into mystery that much, but Rey’s story is intriguing, suspenseful, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fun fact: it’s the only of the six written in third person. Timothy Cavendish steps in to provide some comic relief from Rey’s dramatic cliff-hanger. His one-liners are hilarious and his “ordeal” really is quite the ordeal! The thing I love most about his story is what seems to be an underlying analysis of certain aspects of present-day society.
From the realistic albeit over-the-top world of Cavendish, Sonmi-451 takes over the narrative with her calm, philosophic tone and introduces the reader to a futuristic, consumer-driven world that is absolutely horrific. Finally, Zachry’s narrative, though dialectically rather challenging, is introspective and beautiful. There is a strong sense of oral tradition and thick history that simultaneously gives the story simplicity and complexity.
Even though I’m not always a fan of dog-earing (I love old, tattered books but don’t like to tatter them myself!) I couldn’t help dog-earing all the pages that revealed connections with other sections of the book. The result, I admit, is pretty neat; the pattern of the dog-eared pages demonstrates the attention Mitchell paid to telling a story that is ultimately one of universality.
Cloud Atlas is the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s most certainly one that can be revisited countless times over. The movie version is also a must-watch; it takes the already unique stories and tells them in a refreshing, original way with a cast that is stellar and engaging. Needless to say, I’m looking very forward to reading more of David Mitchell; next on my list to read of his works is Black Swan Green, and I already just know I won’t be disappointed.