Apatt's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
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Aug 25, 12

Read from August 18 to 25, 2012

This book has been in my TBR pile for about a year, the recently released trailer of the movie adaptation finally galvanized me to get on with it. The trailer actually looks quite good and having read the book I think it serves quite well as a book trailer also. Like a lot of readers I tend to stick to reading within my comfort zone which in my case is science fiction / fantasy, the problem with that is I tend to miss out on the ideas and perspectives that other genres and the mainstream has to offer. Fortunately sometime I chance upon genre busting books like Cloud Atlas that remind me to widen the scope of my reading to get the most out of this favorite pastime.

Cloud Atlas is comprised of six interconnected novella-length stories spanning hundreds - possibly thousands - of years (some of the dates are not explicitly indicated). The unusual structure of the book has been described as "like a Russian doll" or "nested", sort of 1-2-3-4-5 -6- 5-4-3-2-1, Stories #1 to 5 are split in halves, #6 the middle story is narrated in its entirety. The best thing about this narrative structure is that it is unusual, yet not confusing, and kind of fun. You meet several new friends on your way to the middle of the book, then on your way back home you meet them again. I find it very pleasant, a little like passing through towns on a road trip and going back the same route.

David Mitchell's versatility is awe inspiring, the range of genres, styles, moods and tones in Cloud Atlas is a virtuoso performance. The six different prose styles cleverly represent the evolution and devolution of language as civilization rises and falls. However, the complexity of the book makes it quite hard for me to review so I will just cop out and briefly comment on the stories:

1) The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing - a high seas adventure which tackles the theme of racism more directly than the other stories. A good start (and end) to the book, though not really my pigeon, as it were. I have yet to finish Moby Dick.

2) Letters from Zedelghem - the story of a young composer and his struggle to write a lasting piece of music while assisting a sick and elderly famous composer. This story is written in a flippant prose style somewhat reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse though the plot is not nearly so farcical and takes a dark turn later on. Of all the six protagonists Robert Frobisher is the least sympathetic, he is, however, witty and charming, which makes the story more readable than it would otherwise be.

3) Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery - This story is a nuclear conspiracy thriller, with a plucky journalist at the centre. Some critics have dismissed this story as cliche or somehow "beneath" what the author is capable of, damn literati. Plebeian that I am I find it a riveting read with sympathetic characters, it seems like one of the more brightly colored components of the book.

4) The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish - A lighthearted romp about a dishonest publisher jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I enjoyed this story tremendously, it is narrated by a curmudgeonly old man in our times (21st century)

5) An Orison of Sonmi~451 - A dystopian sci-fi story set in Korea in an unspecified far future year, very much my usual cup of tea. The story is narrated in a William Gibson-ish prose style. This story reminds me of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a little. Wonderful characterization of the clone Sonmi 451 (a little shout-out to Ray Bradbury there), man's inhumanity to clones remind me of Greg Egan's "dust theory" in Permutation City which basically posits that ill treatment of man-made sentient beings is cruel and unethical.

6) Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After - A post apocalyptic sci-fi story set in Hawaii, the prose style reads as if it could have been written by Forrest Gump, it takes a little getting used to but the power and passion of the story is undeniable. The narrator is more of a Watsonian supporting character I think.

The little links between the stories are a little tenuous but together they form a chain of stories with some common themes, the one theme that is present in all the stories is the individual's struggle against authority, be they the government, the corporation, the hospital staff, the captain and crew of a ship etc. All the protagonist eventually manage to "stick it to the Man" against all odds. Other themes repeated from time to time include social injustice, racism, friendship and loyalty. At the end of the day though I believe the author's intent is to create a work of art in fiction form, the themes and messages are secondary to the art. A truly unforgettable book.
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Reading Progress

08/18/2012 page 51
10.0%
08/21/2012 page 255
50.0% "Ruddy smart!"
08/24/2012 page 507
100.0% "A multitude of drops :)"

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Michael Very thoughtful review!

I would imagine it will help people find there way to reading it. A note on how you found your way to take it on, a clear summary of its nested structure with assurance that it's a fun ride, a nice layout on content scope of the stories, and a smooth slide into home plate with a personal response on your sense of it being an unforgettable piece of art.

I liked the parallel metaphor of music for the book structure which one character reveals. And the theme of disparity between the haves and have-nots of the world in different historical ages. Most if not all of the main characters seem to find a way to swim against the tide on the path the human self-destruction.


message 2: by Apatt (last edited Aug 25, 2012 05:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Thanks Michael, you are always so kind. That reminds me to put in a link for the movie trailer .
"swim against the tide on the path the human self-destruction." is brilliant I should steal that and stick on the review! Awfully hard to review this book, may be because it's thematically more complex than the sci-fi stuff I normally read, more often than not those are based on one central conceit.

I just finished East of Eden on audiobook, I wonder if it will be easier to review? It has a more cohesive structure to it.


Nearly So, basically, the age-old idea from movies like Crash or Babel or (insert gimmicky script here).


Nathan Wilcox Good review. Just started it myself. Can you think of any other works written in a similar fashion? Or comparable storyline?

Also, it's been a while since I read Permutation City, but if I recall, the Dust Theory had to do with loading a mirrored copy of consciousness over an orderly copy of the universe? I know the overall story touched upon the ethics involved with stored consciousness, but the theory itself spoke to the ordered information.

Have you read Distressed by Egan? I thought it was probably his second best after Permutation City.


Apatt Nathan wrote: "Good review. Just started it myself. Can you think of any other works written in a similar fashion? Or comparable storyline?

Also, it's been a while since I read Permutation City, but if I recall..."


Thanks Nathan, also for the dust theory explanation, may be I'd better do some editing on that!
I haven't read any more Egans yet, just too many books to catch up with. I've also been meaning to read Stephen Baxter for a while...


Guillermo Azuarte Nathan, this same author has a similar book to Cloud Atlas called Ghostwritten. And nice review Apatt, this truly was an unforgettable book. Maybe in my top 10 or 5 of all time.


Apatt Guillermo wrote: "Nathan, this same author has a similar book to Cloud Atlas called Ghostwritten. And nice review Apatt, this truly was an unforgettable book. Maybe in my top 10 or 5 of all time."

Thanks Guillermo! I just realized I forgot to answer Nathan's question about similar books, sorry! My answer for Nathan is a simple no any way, never really read anything like Cloud Atlas.


Guillermo Azuarte Yeah, it was really unique. I'm really looking forward to rereading it.. there's just so many things to read, such little time for rereads!!

You know that trailer is the only reason I found out about this book. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the movie at all. Did you end up seeing it?

Out of curiosity, which Baxter book were you planning on starting with?


message 9: by Apatt (last edited Jul 12, 2013 06:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Guillermo wrote: "Out of curiosity, which Baxter book were you planning on starting with? ..."

I tried Raft and gave it up as I could not get into it, the science is confusing for me (more than Greg Egan!). I think I will try Timelike Infinity? I'd like to read The Time Ships but I can't get it on Kindle (not available for Thailand).

I did see the Cloud Atlas movie, I thought it was OK, but having read the book first made it easily understandable!

I've been trying to watch the Hobbit on DVD and kept falling as sleep in the middle!


Guillermo Azuarte You're not alone in giving up on that one from what I hear. I have it here but I haven't tried reading it yet. I haven't read Timelike yet, but I hear that's a good place to start with the Xeelee Sequence. I highly recommend Vacuum Diagrams as another possible starting point. It's a series of short stories set in the Xeelee universe. I'd also recommend the Manifold trilogy starting with either Manifold Time or Manifold Space.

I think I was being book snobby when I saw it, but I remember the people I was watching it with (non readers)being sort of confused with what was going on. I don't blame them.

I haven't seen the Hobbit yet, but it worries me how they're stretching out a relatively short book into 3 giant 3 hour movies!! There was probably a lot of extra padding in there, hence your urge to sleep through it.


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