Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

I started the journey in ‘Cloud Atlas’ with uncertainty as to what to expect, and the initial Adam Ewing story did not make me hopeful for enjoying the book. However, when the metaphorical atlas started to pull together and collaborate to make Frobisher’s musical masterpiece come true in written form, it became an intriguing and – in places – stunning read.

It’s difficult to say what the premise of ‘CA’ is; as an overview, it comprises of five lives – a birthmark and both tangible and philosophical links draw five souls together to reach a heartfelt and moralistic conclusion about the future of our civilisation. Each story is interrupted by the next until we reach ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’, where a a future lust for power and knowledge have led to the eradication of both.

Without divulging too much, my favourite stories by far were Robert Frobisher’s ‘Letters from Zedelghem’ and ‘An Orison of Sonmi 451’. Starting with Frobisher, I was in love with his flippant attitude to life; he’s what we all want to be, the person who just lives for their passion and will harmlessly use people to find (and fund!) his dream, and subtly reminds us that the world was constantly evolving in terms of class, sexual and political equality. The end of his story was as beautiful as it was haunting; to be so consumed by your passion that it challenges existence beyond it – how do you cope when you know your life’s work is achieved? Even now, a week after finishing Mitchell’s novel, I feel compelled to consider what options were left in Frobisher’s future; unlike Luisa Rey, his story catapulted from start to end, rather than start to end to a new beginning all over again.

Then there was Sonmi. There’s an aura of something special and unusual unfolding throughout her story, and something about it never feels complete – the ending to this (again, without spoiling) perhaps reveals how much you can be told and yet how little you really know. The frightening future of corpocracy was perhaps a little close for comfort; how long until genetic engineering crosses a barrier mankind should never confront? You only have to think of the dire warnings of God-like knowledge in texts like ‘Frankenstein’ to understand how dangerous knowledge can be in the wrong hands, and how recapturing the power behind knowledge is a struggle going beyond one life. What struck me most about Sonmi’s story was that she never seemed angry or disparaging towards man; there was a freshness and honesty behind her story that negated the need for emotional fluctuations. I was about to say that perhaps she shows mankind can redeem itself when faced with corruption, but then I realised that it doesn’t, and perhaps that’s one of the scarier insights into our future; it takes our creations and things we have tried to subjugate to remind us how far we’ve strayed from a morally sound society.

Picking out my favourites doesn’t, of course, mean I didn’t enjoy the other texts, although there tended to be something that jarred about the characters in these texts. Adam Ewing’s initial outing was perhaps a bit overly moralistic to allow me to warm to him, but his final text was fascinating, perhaps because he suffered misfortune and injustice, just like the rest of us – life was not perfect after all, despite his preaching. Likewise, Luisa Rey was a bit too preppy before realising she was destructible and her efforts would not succeed just for their purity alone – by her ending, I felt like her experiences allowed her to deserve her outcome. Content-wise, Zachry’s story was fascinating, as a lot of post-apocalyptic (although I use the term loosely – man’s implosion is perhaps more in his control that we’d ever like to admit) writing is: it just took a long time to read his dialect!

So having initially not seen a point to these interlocking stories, Sonmi, much as in the book, guided the way to Mitchell’s purpose: to show that, even if souls don’t cross ages, ideals do and passion for life will succeed, even if only for a short while. Eventually, our souls intertwine and we strive for the same outcome: learning, growing, fulfilment and happiness.

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One thought on “Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

  1. Pingback: Review: ‘Ghostwritten’ by David Mitchell | The Book of Tomorrow

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