“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell is a novel that can’t really be assigned to any one genre class, rather it is a collection of interlinked shorter tales with varying genres, from Historical Fiction to Autobiography Cloud Atlas changes it up as it goes a long. The novels chapter structure seems to be subject to a lot of critical scrutiny, the structure for those who haven’t read the book splits five of the stories in half on opposite sides of the book with a sixth story as a pinnacle point in the middle which, to illustrate looks like this 1-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-3-2-1. Honestly can’t say I have read a book with such a structure before “Cloud Atlas” and although it felt a tad gimmicky initially I warmed to the structure after a couple of chapters and still think it is quite a clever technique that does work, just about.
Spoilers from here
Structure aside, Cloud Atlas showcases David Mitchells’ talents as a true wordsmith. Mitchells’ prose for one is just astounding, his ability to write from the perspective of a modern day elderly publisher then so flawlessly transitioning to an emotionless clone while still creating two totally different and convincing characters is a testament to his brilliant use of language. The attention to detail that went into each characters’ language is what made it so easy for me to immerse myself in their individual stories; Sonmi-451 calling pictures ‘Nikon’s’, Zachary’s almost completely broken speech and Autua’s ‘Missa Ewing!’ have to be amongst the best examples of that attention to detail.
Mitchell somehow managed to make every short story within the grander tale feel just as unique and interesting as the last, by the time I hit the second half of the book I was reading the thing for hours at a time because I was just so anxious to discover what was to befall the characters, that being said I wasn’t entirely impartial to each story. “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” chapters provided a much needed lighthearted and hysterical take on the big issue parallels covered in the other chapters through the eyes of the perfect anti-hero Timothy Cavendish, in spite of all the humor one of the best quotes in the book was found there ‘it is attitude not years, that condemns one to the ranks of the Undead.’ Robert Frobishers’ Letters from Zeldelghem were a close runner up for me, the only chapters that felt a bit ‘pulpy’ were ‘The First Mystery of Luisa Rey” sections, I’m not sure if Mitchell was intending to make it a bit of a pulpy read so that Cavendish could comment on it later or if was just by happenstance; for an ‘Airport Thriller’ The Luisa Rey mystery still made for a thrilling read which is good enough.
“Cloud Atlas” explored some very interesting themes, the best and most prominent of which being the repetition of mistakes made by humanity throughout time. Forced containment is the most explored of these mistakes in my mind: The enslavement of blacks in the Ewing journal right through to Cavendish with his leper like treatment in the elderly home ‘Aurora house’ and of course the future enslavement of fabricant clones in the Sonmi-451 chapters being the biggest portrayals of this. In Ewing’s final chapter and the last of the books chapters, we see Adam Ewing’s resolve to join the abolitionists on his return to San Francisco. When his father expresses his disapproval saying in the end his influence will count for no more than ‘one drop in a limitless ocean’ Ewing replies ‘ Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops.’ This is Mitchell out right stating that for good change to occur people need to stand for their beliefs and not just concern their selves with the size of their individual influence.
‘Selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.’
“Cloud Atlas” was a tremendous read even in spite of an unconventional structure. The themes run very deep, the characters are flawless as is Mitchells’ shining use of language, couldn’t recommend this book more too the persevering reader.