Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is an old book, fairly known, I would say, and even put onto the big screen. By now the premise of this book should be familiar to most; six interwoven tales of one person reincarnate spanning the years between 1850’s and a dystopian future. Each tale varies distinctly in style and tone from old journals to crappy mystery novels to sci-fi uprisings. I feel wearied by the mere recounting of six stories in one. Mainly because I don’t feel like they were actually important. The thing that kept hitting me as I read was it wasn’t the stories – it was the message.
Sure Mitchell interwove the stories into eachother, skilfully in a way that made you doubt the realness of the characters. Luisa investigates a story as a journalist. Then her story appears as a simple mystery novel in the next story read by book-editor Timothy Cavendish. His story is turned into a movie seen by the clone Son Mi in a far-off future. Unfortunately it doesn’t even matter whether they were real or not. All that matters is that David Mitchell had a message about humanity and he used any means possible to tell us: it’s all connected. Across every type of story every human everything is connected.
The execution of the novel is well done. The prose varies sufficiently to be interesting, even shining at times. When it is lacking it seems a mere tool to highlight the genre of the story. I still felt, however, that each character was speaking with the same voice, each character was equally invested in small details and tangents about autumn leaves or small side stories with little point to them. And this would be fine, if only one cared about the characters. Which I did not.
Each story is told, breaking off at a crucial moment. Then the next story is introduced. All stories except the sixth are told in halves. In the sixth story Zachry tells us what it’s all about and then we return to the other stories closing them one by one. An interesting choice which might have been fulfilling if one was supposed to care about the characters. But you are notI can hardly remember what happened to each of them in the end;
“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops.”
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
“Souls cross ages, like clouds cross skies, and though a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud and so is a soul.”
“It’s a small world. It keeps recrossing itself”
And on and on it goes these hammering into the readers skull that we are all one and the same. That our actions shape endless futures and well, it’s a really elaborate way to say that we should all really be nice to each other. It pains me that the novel is fairly well written, yet it does not bleed. And when novels don’t bleed, when characters are merely cogs in the machine of a story, a book is never interesting and will never deserve your attention. Cloud Atlas will never let you feel the world in a new way, precisely because that’s all it wants to do.
This was my first ever audio book! Read my thoughts on on that experience at ladyscribble.com