Mitchell’s virtuosic novel presents six narratives that evoke an array of genres, from Melvillean high-seas drama to California noir and dystopian fantasy. There is a naïve clerk on a nineteenth-century Polynesian voyage; an aspiring composer who insinuates himself into the home of a syphilitic genius; a journalist investigating a nuclear plant; a publisher with a dangerous best-seller on his hands; and a cloned human being created for slave labor.
These five stories are bisected and arranged around a sixth, the oral history of a post-apocalyptic island, which forms the heart of the novel. Only after this do the second halves of the stories fall into place, pulling the novel’s themes into focus: the ease with which one group enslaves another, and the constant rewriting of the past by those who control the present.
Against such forces, Mitchell’s characters reveal a quiet tenacity. When the clerk is told that his life amounts to “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean,” he asks, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
I had wanted to read Cloud Atlas for quite a while, and when I heard that the movie was coming out I thought, What better time? Alas it didn’t live up to my high expectations.
The book is divided into 6 parts, following 6 different people at various points in history and also into the future.
It starts off with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, told from the first person perspective, and continues moving at seemingly random time gaps up until An Orison of Somni, set in the future where cloned people have become the slaves of mankind and further again to Sloosha’s Crossin an Ev’rythin’ After which seems to be set after the fall of the human race and it’s apparent degeneration into primitive tribes.
Now it wasn’t the composition of the book which put me off, on the contrary I tend to like novels which flick back and forth through time, I really enjoyed Kate Moss’ books which do this to a certain extent and have recently read The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson which can be quite confusing in its jumps, but which I also really enjoyed. Neither was it the change of style and pace between the historical and the science fiction chapters of the book as these are both styles of writing I savour.
I think, perhaps it was that my expectations were too high for this book and the story just didn’t grip me the way it should have. I enjoyed the individual stories contained in this book and I really liked the way it progressed into the future up to the middle of the book and then began to return to the past along the same course it had already taken. I think what bothered me the most was the fact that I felt that each person and each story deserved a novel to themselves. They felt disjointed from each other, there was no obvious connection. Reincarnation was alluded to at various stages of the book and little hints were dropped in here and there, however although the connection between some of the stories were obvious, such as An Orison of Somni and Sloosha’s Crossin, all in all, I didn’t see the point of putting this collection of stories together in this way.
I really enjoyed the story within a story, with Frobisher discovering the diary of Adam Ewing and in turn Louisa Rey reading through the letters from Frobisher to Sixsmith. I would love to say that I enjoyed it all, but I was also very disappointed. I still haven’t seen the movie but I definitely intend to as I’m still very curious as to how they will deal with certain sections, and I’m hoping the inspiration I missed while reading the novel will hit when I see it on the “big screen”.
LBC also reviewed the book HERE for #MedusaLBC and HERE for #ArcadiaLBC.