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Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Member Name: mattconnect
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Advantages: Great narrative, characters, themes and details
Disadvantages: May be confusing to begin with, Takes effort to invest into each new narrative
I decided to read 'Cloud Atlas' having seen the trailer to the upcoming film adaptation. Split into six interlaced stories, spanning time, continent and culture, the book is gripping in narrative and fearless in the themes it explores.
The book begins with the diary of Adam Ewing, an American notary, ill on a voyage back to San Francisco. The diary is discovered by Robert Frobisher, an English musician who flees to Belgium to find work and documents this with letters to his friend Rufus Sixsmith. The letters are discovered by Luisa Rey, a reporter physicist Sixsmith trusts to expose an unsafe nuclear power plant. The story of Luisa Rey is sent to Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who mistakenly is sent to a care home, his memoir becomes a film and is watched by clone Somni~451, facing execution. The last story happens in a post apocalyptic world where Zachry worships a goddess named Somni and tells his story of meeting Meronym, a strange technologically advanced woman who enters their tribe.
Split just as each story reaches its climax, I was at times extremely annoyed, wanting to know just what happens next! The diverse characters and stories which unfold are so drastic, a lot of effort needs to be invested into each one- it is like starting six different books and not getting to finish them till later!
At first, the book was a slight chore as I failed to grasp what was so mindblowing about the book, until certain key themes and details started to reoccur. For example, Luisa has the same comet shaped birthmark as Robert Frobisher. These intrinsic links make the book so slick and carefully thought out, it is truly epic.
The book has a mirroring point, where the sixth story reaches a climax and then unfolds with the rest of the stories read/watched by the protagonist that preceded them. There is a WOW moment at the centre of the book as cloud atlas is being discussed and a wonderful poetic thought is uttered by Zachry, which sums the book up majestically.
Following this, the rest of the stories unravel with great pace, climax after climax. The shocking revelations of Somni and the explosive resolve to Luisa Rey is amongst my favourites.
The range of themes explored includes race, power, the human condition, love, sex, religion... which permeates throughout each of the six stories in different ways and at different scales. Mitchell says: "The title itself "Cloud Atlas," the cloud refers to the ever changing manifestations of the Atlas, which is the fixed human nature which is always thus and ever shall be. So the book's theme is predacity, the way individuals prey on individuals, groups on groups, nations on nations, tribes on tribes. So I just take this theme and in a sense reincarnate that theme in another context..."
Another interesting fact (via Wiki) is that the number six occurs many times within the book, a clever detail Mitchell injected, which I actually failed to observe, e.g. "Sonmi recites Six Catechisms, drives six-wheeler fords, lives on the university sixth-floor where she is left alone for six days, completes secondary school in six months"...
Overall, 'Cloud Atlas' is a unique book which spans time, language and culture- to tell six very different stories with one common message and theme. This is a book which is so huge and possesses such powerful writing that it takes time to digest and there are many literary gems to find, whether it is the subtle details, the beautiful descriptions or the shocking pacy narrative.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize of 2004, 'Cloud Atlas' is truly a must read.
Summary: An epic book that transverses time and space- can't wait for the movie!!