Title: Cloud Atlas

Author: David Mitchell

Date Finished: 17/11/12

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

I have had this book for just under a year, after it was recommended to me by the conductor of one of the ensembles I play in.  He said he had conducted the music that inspired the book, which in itself was fantastic and he subsequently read the book himself.  He was definitely right when he said it was a great read.

The novel contains 6 different narratives arranged in the structure: 1,2,3,4,5,6,5,4,3,2,1 with the 6th story being the only one uninterrupted.  Obviously this is already quite a unique idea and what’s more is that each story is set in a different time period AND each one has links with the previous story too.  Sound like Mitchell bit off more than he could chew? Well he manages to tie everything together perfectly.

My favourite stories were 2,3 and 5 which were a story of a broke aspiring composer set in Belgium, a murder mystery in 60s USA and an interview with a clone set in Korea in the future.  You can tell already that this book is an eclectic mix of plots but I was especially impressed by how much detail Mitchell managed to write into a relatively few number of pages.  It felt more like 6 short books – each plot was rich and completely unlike anything I had ever read before.

Now obviously nothing is ever perfect in a book and I did find it quite hard to get into the first story.  Also the sixth story really did nothing for me, especially the way humans have resorted to primitivism in the future.  That upset me a bit.  But these were just minor difficulties I had – I still rated the book 5/5!

The characters are quite hard to write about generally, as there were obviously more main characters than normal, due to the six different stories.   Adam Ewing was a bit silly but Henry Goose was a brilliant villain.  I thought quite a few of the characters weren’t particularly realistic, but then it didn’t seem to matter.  Timothy Cavendish and to be frank, almost all the characters in that particular story (number 4) were all totally unrealistic but I really didn’t care – they were hilarious!  Sonmi-451 was brilliant but my favourite set of characters have to be from the second story; I just found them all so memorable.  I really looked forward to reading the recapitulation of story 2 much more for the characters than the plot.

The settings are all vibrant and I loved the way we jumped all over the world and all over time too.  I must sound like a stuck record but this book is just so unique for this!  The way we were suddenly in Belgium after being deep in obscure Pacific Islands and then quickly into the US and then catapulted into modern day Britain followed soon by futuristic Korea and then Hawaii and back through them all again.  Brilliant.

I looked on Wikipedia after I had finished Cloud Atlas just to see what were the ‘official’ interpretations of the book and interestingly I didn’t really agree.  The main themes detailed on the website were: the number 6 and ascent and descent.  Now both these themes do feature but I was really shocked because the theme I observed most was struggle.  Adam struggles against his ‘illness’, Robert struggles with having no money, Luisa struggles against Seaboard, Timothy struggles against his imprisonment, Sonmi struggles against Unanimity and Papa Song’s and Zachry struggles against the Kona people and to an extent himself.  You get the picture.  You can understand how I was surprised that none of this even featured on the ‘linking themes’ section!
If any of you have read this book, I would be really interested on how you reflect on the themes!  Let me know!

Anyway, as you can tell, this book has become one of my favourites and I have put it straight on the re-read list (that doesn’t happen very often).  I am sooo excited to see the film when it comes out next year and I predict that in 10, 20, 30+ years, students may be studying this book for their English lessons – I think it’s a modern classic.  If you are looking for a really great read then seriously look no further; I cannot recommend this book enough.