Medusa LBC Write Up – Cloud Atlas – Guest
I for one am hoping that we’ll be hearing from him again soon.
THE BLURB (from Amazon)
A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
Cloud Atlas is no ordinary novel. It contains six stories that take the reader from the nineteenth century South Pacific to a post-apocalyptic future. These stories nest within each other with the chief protagonist featuring in the next stage of the story.
An added twist of the narrative structure means that we move forward in time only to start at where we began.
That beginning starts with Adam Ewing, a lawyer, who finds himself passing time on a Pacific island whilst his ship is being repaired. Whilst there, Ewing learns of the enslavement of the Moiriori tribe by the vicious Maori. His closest confidant is Henry Goose, a doctor who it transpires is slowly poisoning him in to access his supposed wealth. Set in the 1800s it evokes a time of exploration and discovery such as Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands along with references to Herman Melville.
The journals of Adam Ewing are discovered by the next character, a young impoverished musician called Robert Frobisher. He is studying under the tutorlege of a Delius-like composer, Vyvyan Ayers. He finds the journal in Ayers’ extensive library. Frobisher is a character the reader warms to even though he becomes involved in morally dubious trysts and disposes of rare volumes from the library for his own financial gain. Finding himself in a dead-end as a result of various activities,
Frobisher takes his own life. He leaves his Cloud Atlas symphony to his friend (and implied lover) Rufus Sixsmith with whom he has been in correspondence.
The symphony attracts the attention of Luisa Rey who features in the next segment, set in the Watergate-era of the conspiracy ridden 1970s. Rey is an investigative reporter looking into the shady workings of a nuclear power station- one of her informants is Sixsmith from the previous story. The prose in this section is knowingly easy airport-novel-style and reminds the reader of movies such as All the Kings Men and The Parallax View. Despite various clichéd set-backs it is never in any doubt that our heroine will prevail in the end.
‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’ is set in the present day. It tells the story of a publisher who finds one of his books becoming a bestseller when its thuggish author throws a reviewer off a roof. This has repercussions when author’s thuggish
brothers demand a bigger cut of the spoils. Cavendish finds himself on the run and in Hull where he ends up trapped in a nightmarish high security nursing home.
Eventually he masterminds an escape plan that provides him into a safe, wealthy retirement. Cavendish was generally considered the least sympathetic of all of the Cloud Atlas characters. When we arrive at the “happy ending” for him there is a feeling it is rushed and all a bit too neat.
With ‘An Orison of Somni~451’ we are thrown into a dystopian future, following the life of a genetically-bred service industry slave. In the course of her narrative she evolves beyond her original function to become a focal point for the abolitionist
cause. It is set in a futuristic Korea with suitably dark Orwellian and Huxley-esque overtones. It is an unsettling tale, made all the more chilling when we consider what already happens, be it the factory-cities in China or the huge service underclass in Singapore. Dystopia is all the more striking when we see its origins in the present day.
‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After’ is a grim post-apocalyptic narrative set on the island of Hawaii where life has reverted to the days of tribal pre-civilization.
Zachry meets Meronym – a mysterious stranger from an advanced tribe from across the seas. After some initial scepticism he is won over when she helps liberate him from the marauding savages. The language used in this section requires concentration (similar to that used in A Clockwork Orange or Trainspotting) but it
serves its purpose well. This episode effectively takes us back to where we began with its savagery in the Pacific Ocean.
This is a book which is loaded with themes and open to interpretations. Accordingly to the author all of the main characters, bar one, are reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies throughout the novel. They also share the same “6” birthmark. The number “six” is a recurring theme throughout the novel. There are six interlocking stories, the Cloud Atlas sextet, Sixsmith is the name of a main character (aged 66)
Cavendish is sixty-something years old, Sonmi recites Six Catechisms, Zachry’s rolls a “six’n’six “when playing dice. The list goes on. The book is all about beginnings and endings, constants and change, future memories and certainly has lofty ambitions.
Whether the book succeeds in meeting its goals is a difficult question to answer. Perhaps in the end it is best regarded as a loosely-connected collection of stories and try not to dwell on the more metaphysical aspects covered.
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