Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is a novel divided into six stories, each told in a different narrative style, that take place in historically progressive settings.

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing: Follows an American notary who has been shipwrecked in the Chatham Islands. While waiting for the ships repairs he befriends a British doctor who may have a rather shocking dark side. Told in the form of a dairy.

Letters from Zedelghem: Follows a young, disowned aristocratic composer who concocts a plan to be the hands of an ailing composer living in Belgium. Told in the form of a one-sided telegram correspondence

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: Luisa Rey a journalist for a minor magazine is tipped off that a nuclear power plant may be unsafe. The cooperation in charge will do anything to prevent that knowledge being made public. Told in a traditional novel format.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: A modern-day publisher suddenly finds unexpected success when one of his authors murders a critic. The author's brothers want a cut of the profits leading the protagonist to high tale it out of London. Things take a turn for the worse when he is confined against his will in a nursing home. Told as a first-person narrative

An Orison of Sonmi~451: Sent in a dystopian future where genetically manufactured clones leave a life of servitude. One of the clones develops a state of awareness and is pulled into a plot to overhaul society. Told in the form of an interview

Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After: In a post-apocalyptic Hawaii Zachary, who lives a life as a simple herdsman, life is turned upside down when a member of the last remnant of a technologically advanced civilization comes to visit. Told as fire-side narrative.

Each story, baring the final one, is interrupted midway through and is viewed in some form by their 'successor'. The majority of the protagonists, again baring the final one, are the reincarnation of the same soul. I did enjoy the different narratives styles and the author does demonstrate some real skill in this department. The differing quirks of language in each narrative introduced a genuine authenticity, for example anyone who has ever read an early explorers dairy will recognize the common spelling mistakes that occur and are mirrored in the Ewing narrative. The world building in the two sci-fi pieces was impressive. In the Orison story common objects are simply described as brand names, for example fords are cars and electronic equipment are Sony’s, an interesting twist on consumerism indeed.

The central theme throughout the stories seems to be man's inhumanity to fellow man but contrasted with both societies and the individual’s ability to rise above this. This is ably carried through in most of the stories baring Letters and The Ghastly Ordeal where perhaps the author is trying too hard for humour.

There is an upcoming movie adaptation due for release shortly. Follow this link for more information

Overall Cloud Atlas is an immersive read and a clever way of structuring a collection of stories. 8.5/10.

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