Cloud Atlas tells six interlocking stories. In The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, we follow the young notary Adam on his way back to the US on a ship in the mid 19th century where he meets a doctor and a slave who both greatly influence his fate. In Letters from Zedelghem, the young composer Robert Frobisher, who finds himself in financial difficulties, comes to Belgium to work with Vyvyan Ayrs, a famous but ill composer. In Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, we read about the journalist Luisa Rey who uncovers a conspiracy regarding a power plant which puts her in grave danger. In The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, Cavendish is a publisher who asks his brother for help to get out of his debts. When the quiet getaway turns out to be a senior home, he seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place. In An Orison of Sonmi~451, the clone Sonmi~451 tells an archivist her life story from the fast food joint Papa Song where she worked as a waitress until her life took a turn in a very different direction. In Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After, Zachry is one of the few people in the world who survived The Fall. His life with his family gets disrupted when one of the Prescients, who still have technology from the Old Uns, called Meronym comes to stay with them to learn about their ways.
Cloud Atlas was pretty good, but it didn’t blow me away. My enthusiasm for the different stories varied widely and I did not enjoy all of them, but I liked most of it.
The stories are nestled into each other – you get the first half of each, the entirety of Sloosha’s Crossin’ and then the second half of the other stories in reverse order. And I was not entirely happy about that structure. It seemed that always when I was completely involved in the story, it stopped and since it took a while since I got back to it, I had already forgotten some details when I finally did. Also, it just weakened the second halves for me.
I did like how the stories were connected to each other and that Mitchell didn’t overplay the mystic-spiritual angle. Yes, almost all of the main characters have the same comet-shaped mole and are probably reincarnations of the same soul but it wasn’t a really important part – at least not to me. And since me and spirituality don’t mesh well, I appreciated that Mitchell gave me that cop-out.
But to talk about each of the stories in turn:
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing was a rather bad start for me. I really had to drag myself through it. I thought it was boring and stereotypical and if the first half had been much longer than the 40 pages it was, I’d probably would have quit the book then and there. The second half didn’t make it better for me, either and it was kind of a let-down as an ending.
Letters from Zedelghem, I loved. I loved that we got a bisexual main character, I loved Frobisher’s relationship with Sixsmith that is all kinds of complicated, even though you basically only heard about it from Frobisher’s pov. The ending I didn’t like so much but at least it was very well drawn up how Frobisher’s mind slowly breaks.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery was pretty nice but it was the story that suffered most from the break in the middle. I liked Luisa, generally, but I had a really hard time finding my way back into the story and I was a little confused about what had happened. I wasn’t sure whether there was an actual plot hole or if I had just missed something, but honestly, I didn’t care enough about it to re-read the last bit of the first part again and find clarity.
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish‘s first half was atrocious and I hated it and Timothy. The second half was ok but generally the story didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the book.
An Orison of Sonmi~451 was great. I liked it a lot, even if it wasn’t the most creative of dystopias, though the detailed touches were really nice. Generally it was well-told and I loved how Sonmi’s development and growth was shown.
It took me a while to get into Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After which is told in a dialect (to denote Future!Speak) and accordingly a little hard to read. But once I got used to that I did enjoy the story and even the linguistics a lot. The only thing that irritated me a little bit was that it was so completely extra-ordinary that Meronym was black. I mean, the whole thing is set on Hawaii – which is not exactly POC-free – even if a long time in the future. I find it unlikely that all the black people went somewhere else at some point.
Summarising: it wasn’t the read of the century but it was pretty nice.