This review does not contain spoilers.
Six interlocking lives—one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, Cloud Atlas erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity’s will to power, and where it will lead us.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up this book. All I knew was that people raved about it … and it had a pretty cover. Because COVERS MATTER, OKAY? Cloud Atlas is actually a set of six nested stories, which means the first five stories are ‘interrupted’ about halfway through, the sixth story is told in full, and then the first five stories are completed in reverse chronological order. Maybe that sounds a bit confusing but it makes sense while reading the novel. It helps that most stories are related in some way.
David Mitchell dabbles in different genres and writing styles; his plots may be anaemic at times but each narrator’s voice is distinct and carefully considered. With these narrators as a driving force, readers travel from the 19th Century to a post-apocalyptic and almost devolved future.
To be perfectly honest, I thought I despised Cloud Atlas. But with a little distance and some reflection, I think I only despised one of the short stories. This story, The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing struck me as weak and so tenuously linked that it could have been removed without affecting anything else in the novel. It was also the first and last entry in Cloud Atlas, though it was undoubtedly the dullest. Honestly, I lost count of how many times I fell asleep while trying to read those entries—and each half was only about 40 pages.
Without The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, Cloud Atlas probably would have been a much more enjoyable read. I can’t say that I was enthralled by every story but the other five were at least linked more comprehensively. The most intriguing of these other stories were, for me, Letters from Zedelghem and An Orison of Sonmi~451. Here the narrative voices and plots worked together to create truly enjoyable stories.
I didn’t love Cloud Atlas. There were a few bright sparks in it but I can’t see myself ever rereading it in its entirety.