Cloud Atlas: a review

I haven't done a review in a while, so I thought I'd try again.

Title: Cloud Atlas
Author: David Mitchell
First published: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 529
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Stories and main characters:
The book is made up of six stories told by six different people and in different ways. The stories follow each other and are connected to each other, and interweave. The stories, or characters, are usually important for the following story.

Story one is about Adam Ewing and set in 1850. He is a sweet, naïve notary from California who is stranded on a Pacific island waiting for his ship to be repaired. While he is there he meets a Doctor Goose. He also witnesses the whipping of a Moriori, Autua, and they have a moment of eye contact. The slave sees kindness in Adam Ewing and later when the ship leaves the Doctor and the Moriori joins the boat, Autua as a stowaway. Adam stands up for Autua and Autua becomes his friend. The story tells of the journey back to California and Adam being treated by Doctor Goose for an ‘Ailment’. The story is told though the diary of Adam Ewing and we see his views and his naivety.

The second story is the story of Robert Frobisher. He is a young English composer who runs off to Belgium. He has recently been disowned and spends more money than he has. He goes to Zedelghem to be an amanuensis to Vyvyan Ayrs, an older, reclusive English composer. Ayrs is currently dying of syphilis and Frobisher thinks helping Ayrs could be his route to fame and acclaim. Frobisher gets an audition and eventually becomes the amanuensis. He starts sleeping with Ayrs’ wife, Jocasta, and Ayrs’ daughter suspects. Both Ayrs and Frobisher start composing again. The story is told through Robert’s letters to his friend and lover Rufus Sixsmith back in England. While Frobisher lives with Ayrs he sells off some old books and he finds an old journal by Adam Ewing and becomes fascinated. It cuts off in the middle and he writes home to get Sixsmith to find the rest of the journal.

The third story tells the story of Luisa Rey. She is a journalist living in Buenas Yerbas, California, in 1975. She works as for a magazine called Spyglass. She would like to be a serious journalist and is looking into the possibility that a nuclear power plant on Swanekke Island might be unsafe. She wants to do something impressive and good to honor her father who was an honest cop and a visionary journalist. She gets trapped in an elevator during a blackout and spends a couple of hours with Rufus Sixsmith (yes, the same one), now a physicist. They talk about their life stories and Rufus realizes that he can trust Luisa with the information he has on Swanekke. When the power comes back on he tells her that he’s worried about the plant and that he’ll be in touch. He’s then murdered, because the owners of the power plant are killing potential whistleblowers. In his room Luisa finds the letters written to Sixsmith by Frobisher. She becomes a bit obsessed with them and the symphony he writes about. She starts trying to find information on the power plant. The story cuts off just as Luisa is pushed into a river while she’s driving. The story is written like a thriller novel and is not told by Luisa or from her perspective, it is told by an outside person.

The fourth story is told by Timothy Cavendish. It’s set in London in the present, so sometime around 2004. Cavendish is an elderly book publisher who hasn’t done particularly well. His luck seemingly changes when he publishes a book by a criminal, who boosts the sales of his book by throwing a critic off a roof, killing him. Suddenly Cavendish isn’t exactly flush but he can pay off bills and loans. He is then found by his author’s brothers who would like royalties. Cavendish flees and his brother tricks him into going to a retirement home where he is subsequently trapped after he has a stroke. He plots his revenge while he reads the first half of the Luisa Rey mystery, sent in to his publishing house by a hopeful author. The story is told like an autobiography with notes here and there from Cavendish speaking to the man he supposes will direct the movie based on the book. Cavendish is a pompous, posh man, but he is surprisingly honest about his stroke and his experiences in the retirement home.

The fifth story is an interrogation of Sonmi-451, by a person referred to as the Archivist. It’s set in Korea in the future, probably the 22nd century. Sonmi is a clone, called a fabricant, who worked in a dinery, which seems to be a reference to McDonalds. The clones are essentially slaves. They work 20 hours a day, sleep for four hours and then get up to work again. They are created and have no rights. They also have very little intelligence or vocabulary. Sonmi meets another fabricant named Yoona-939. Yoona has her own will, she has a bigger vocabulary and she has a desire to run away and see the world, and be free. Yoona has ascended and the same is happening to Sonmi. Sonmi eventually escapes, or is set free and is given to a grad-student to be his PhD-thesis project. She is eventually taken away from him, as he is an idiot and she lives somewhere else on campus and takes lessons. The world is a corpocracy, based on corporations owning everything, but an underground movement called the Union wants to overthrow the corpocracy. They’re abolitionists and want to show the world that what is happening to the fabricants is evil. Sonmi becomes their “Messiah” and she recounts how this happens. Her last wish is to finish a movie she once saw the start of: The ghastly affair of Timothy Cavendish. The story is told like an interview with questions being asked by the Archivist and answered by Sonmi.

The last story is the only one that isn’t interrupted. It’s in the middle of the book. All the other stories are cut in half, usually with a cliffhanger. The story is set in the far off future. It tells the story of Zachry, who lives on Hawaii. The story is told by an old Zachry and recounts a story from his youth. Zachry’s people live on the Big Island of Hawaii and are valleyfolk, farmers and herders. They live in fear of the Kona, who they see as savages. The Kona killed Zachry’s father and made his brother a slave. Zachry saw it all happen and sees himself as a coward. At one point a woman called Meronym comes from another place to study them. She’s a Prescient, they occasionally come to study the valleypeople. Meronym stays with Zachry and his family, which annoys Zachry. The Prescients have technology and have much longer lifespans than Zachry and his people. There was something called the Fall, where old civilizations collapsed, but some of that has obviously stayed with the Prescients. Zachry eventually warms to Meronym, and is shocked to learn from Meronym that the god he worships, Sonmi, was once a human, like him.

The writing is one of the most interesting things in the novel I think. Mitchell is very careful to keep to the time he writes for. When he writes Ewing’s story he writes like a 19th century man for instance. With the future stories he can obviously be a bit more free with how he writes. I think he still stays very loyal to his time. In the Sonmi-451 story brands have taken the place of some of the nouns, cars are called fords, shoes are called nikes. It’s very cool to see how corporations and materialism has taken over. It obviously shows what the author thinks of the development of the world. I found the Zachry story a bit hard to follow because of the language. A lot of the words melt together and endings of words are dropped. Sometimes it was hard to get what some of the words means because some words have been replaced. I’m very impressed that he managed to keep to the different styles and that he pretty much made two languages or language structures. He has also pretty much made two mythologies for the book, which is pretty impressive.

I really liked it. I was a bit confused at times, and whenever a story quit there was a sort of cliffhanger, and I got sort of annoyed with Mitchell. It did make me want to reach the continuation. The good thing is that when I read the other stories I got really wrapped up in them. I liked the Luisa Rey story and Sonmi-451 best, probably because I love sci-fi. I’m not sure I can explain the Luisa Rey stuff, I don’t really like thrillers. I loved it though. The story was really cool, I think that’s why I loved it. Also realizing that my favorite stories are the ones with female main characters. So yes. I really liked this book, it was very cool.