Book Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

Posted: 8 September 2015 in Book reviews
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In an epic tale of past and future lives and the events that link them, Cloud Atlas paints a beautiful picture of the undying nature of the human soul. Six lives that span hundreds of years explore themes of love, loss, deception, truth, pain, pleasure, and the hope that their lives had meaning and would be remembered.

Adam Ewing, an American notary, documents his journey from the South Pacific back home to San Francisco in a journal. It begins on Chatham Isle where he meets Dr Henry Goose, a fellow christian and amiable companion. It seems his luck that they are leaving on the same ship, the Prophetess, especially after contracting what Henry diagnoses as gusano coco cervello, a deadly parasite. For a time the vermicide does the trick alleviating the discomfort, but as they near Honolulu his health rapidly declines and he nears death’s door. As he lay dying, Henry reveals his murderous deception and robs him. But Ewing does not die. Autua, a stowaway Moriori from Chatham Isle, nurses him back to health. Having seen the ugly side of humanity, he decides to join the Abolitionist movement upon his return home.

Through letters to lover and friend Sixsmith, we meet composer Robert Frobisher in 1931. He is gifted, but arrogant. After skipping out on his occupancy, he decides to go to Belgium to persuade British composer Vyvyan Ayrs to tutor him. At first things seem to be going well. Ayrs agrees to tutor him and they create a successful piece, he starts an affair with Ayrs’ wife Jocasta, starts reading the journal of American notary Adam Ewing, and begins writing the work he will be remembered for. Then things go sour. Ayrs blatantly uses one of Frobisher’s themes in his own piece. Ayrs tries to blackmail Frobisher, revealing his knowledge of the affair, if he tries to leave. Robert sneaks out and holes up in a couple hotels to finish his Cloud Atlas Sextet. His final letter to Sixsmith is a suicide note.

Luisa Rey is a journalist for seedy magazine Spyglass in Buenas Yerbas, CA in 1975. At a party, she meets Rufus Sixsmith, a scientist at Seaboard Incorporated. He reveals to her how unsafe the nuclear reactor the company is launching is. She looks into it, resulting in her near death. With confidants dying, like Sixsmith, and even losing her job and almost her life, she remains undeterred. It just pushes her to reveal the truth. The head of security at Seaboard, Joe Napier, assists her and saves her a couple times as a debt to her father, but dies near the historic Prophetess retrieving the report. Luisa takes the report and exposes the flaws in the reactor and brings down Seaboard. Now she can relax and finish reading the letters from Frobisher to Sixsmith.

Timothy Cavendish is a small-time publisher in modern-day London. He publishes Knuckle Sandwich by Dermot Hoggins. which no one buys until Dermot kills Sir Felix Finch, a popular reviewer who slated the book. It becomes a bestseller, helping Cavendish financially. When Dermot’s brother’s came knocking, he asks his brother Denholme for money, but he won’t help. Denholme relents, double-crossing Cavendish by putting him in a retirement home called Aurora House. On the way, he begins reading a manuscript entitled Half-lives – The First Luisa Rey Mystery. Discovering his imprisonment, Cavendish does everything he can to escape. Together with Ernie Blacksmith, Veronica Costello, and Mr. Meeks, they plan an escape, which despite a few setbacks succeeds.

Sonmi~451 is a fabricant in Nea So Copros. She works at a Papa Song’s restaurant where her highest aim is xultation in Hawaii. When, like Yoona~939, Sonmi begins her ascension, she escapes the restaurant with Boardman Mephi and chauffeur Chang. At Taemosan University, she meets Hae-Joo Im. Unknown to her, they are members of Union aiming to use her ascension to overthrow Unanimity and Corpocracy. The university is attacked and Sonmi and Hae-Joo escape. He takes her to Huamdonggil for facescaping before going to Pusan to Papa Song’s Golden Ark. After seeing what happens to fabricants who attain xultation, she helps Union and writes her Declarations. Shortly thereafter, she is arrested and is interviewed by an Archivist. At the end, she requests to finish watching The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.

Lastly, Zachry recounts a story from his youth on Big I of Ha-Why. He recounts the deaths of his pa and brother Adam and how he felt his soul had been snared by Old Georgie. Years later, a Prescient named Meronym comes to stay with the Valleymen. They are honoured, but Zachry knows there’s more to this visit than what she’s telling them. She knows he mistrusts her. She saves his sister Catkin so he guides her to Mauna Kea. On their journey, Meronym reveals who Sonmi was, and why she is really there. Weeks later, Hilo is attacked by the Kona while the Valleymen are there bartering. Zachry is taken captive. Meronym rescues him and they head to the Valley hoping the Kona haven’t gotten there yet. They are too late and Zachry’s family is gone. He takes Meronym to Ikat’s Finger and leaves with the Prescients.

My Thoughts

Cloud Atlas is beyond a doubt one of my top books ever. Very few have touched my in ways that this book has. I have felt emotion from it’s words and seen truth written on it’s pages. It’s words have echoed in my soul things that I have known and often forgotten. It is truly a book worth losing yourself in. I always recommend it to people looking for something new to read.

Naturally, I can’t discuss the book without at least mentioning the movie. As much as the film pisses me off, it was still beautifully done. There is much creative license taken in this adaption of the book. Zachry is much to old, Tom Hanks is horrible with accents, Hae-Joo Chang is the fusion of two characters, Ayrs was not living in Edinburgh, etc. I could fill a whole post with the inconsistencies between the two. What I choose to focus on is the beauty and the meaning that both portray: love, loss, betrayal, and so on. That is where the film remains true to the book, and to me that’s what matters most.

Moving on. One thing that impressed me was the writing. It delivers just the right amount of description whilst giving the reader enough room to use their own imagination. While each story is vastly different from the next, so are the character voices. Each story is unique in the story-telling as it is in the voices. Not to mention how authentic they are to the time periods (at least those from the past). Mitchell does a fantastic job and distinguishing the stories from each other. They all stand alone, but then are all connected. The fun with this book is finding all the points in which the stories intersect. From Sonmi’s memory of darkness and drowning like with Luisa, to the comet shaped birthmark that characters all share. It is simply a superbly written novel. Although, I did find Adam Ewing’s part the most challenging to read, but that’s just me.

What I find great about the characters is that they all have an inner drive for truth and betterment for others. Some more so than others. Frobisher and Cavendish are more out for themselves, but they still aim for the truth in their situations. My favourite character was Sonmi. I loved her wisdom and straightforwardness. Despite her origins and her designed purpose, she never gave in to hate and revenge. It seems totally plausible for her to be revered in the future. Very reminiscent of Christ. Honestly, I would love it if David Mitchell published her Declarations. I related most with Frobisher on many levels though (the good ones). I’m a musician, fairly nomadic, bisexual, and just doing my best to keep myself from sinking below the waves. His story made me cry.

As you can tell, I love this book and I whole-heartedly recommend it. Even check out the film. Just not directly after reading the book. Enjoy 😉

Buy on Amazon
Buy at Barnes and Nobles


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