I literally tried and failed 3 times to get into this book over several years, but I didn’t succeed until the 4th try. I have to say that it was definitely worth the effort! The problem was that in a book with 6 narrators, it begins with the least interesting and least accessible storyline. If you can just make it through the difficult first section, the rest of the book is a page turner.
Cloud Atlas is basically 6 connected novellas taking place over the span of several centuries. Everything begins with Adam Ewing, an American traveling from Chatham Isles to California. Alas, the journey is not an easy one and he must rely on friends for his very survival. Next is Robert Frobisher, a poor but talented composer trying to work himself into the household of a famous composer on his deathbed. Luisa Rey follows with my personal favorite storyline. She’s a journalist in the 1970s, trying to figure out if a major corporation is cutting major corners and endangering the lives of millions just to make a little cash. Next up, Timothy Cavendish tells a tragically stomach twisting tale of imprisonment by happenstance. Jumping farther into the future is the tale of a semi-human fabricant, Sonmi-451, who journeys out of obscurity through education and adventure. Lastly is Zachary, a shepherd on Hawaii who develops an unusual friendship with a foreign stranger visiting their land to learn the customs of his people. The plot connects all these stories, but they’re more connected in theme than anything else. There is a strange and enjoyable kind of soul and spirituality to this book. Because the book never fully explains the more mystical elements, the reader is left free to read into them however they wish.
This is my first David Mitchell and I am definitely a fan. The rest of his books are now on my tbr list. His writing is beautiful and clever all at once. In Cloud Atlas alone, he dabbles in many literary genres and succeeds at them all. Even the stories that I wouldn’t naturally be drawn to were interesting. He has a real talent for making characters come alive.
As a sidenote, I half listened to this on audiobook and half read it in print. I enjoyed both, but the audiobook really brought the characters from the far past and far future alive. It was much easier to comprehend the characters and meaning with someone providing intonation and context. Kind of like the difference between watching and reading Shakespeare. So if you’re into audiobooks, this would be a good pick.