Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

This was a very interesting and unique book. It consists of several large sections which are woven together to tell six distinct stories. These stories do relate to each other, but explaining how would be too much of a spoiler. I had thought this book was going to be a science fiction book, but in truth only about a third of it met my definition of science fiction. I would consider one third of it to be historical fiction and the other third to be present-day (or, at least, recent-day) thrillers.


I think one of the most impressive aspects of this book was the way each story had a very different style and voice. All of the stories were entertaining and held my interest, but the two that I would classify as science fiction stories were my favorites. That isn’t surprising given that science fiction is one of my favorite genres. The language in some of the stories could be challenging at times. The historical stories used older and less common words, and the science fiction stories used a lot of made-up words and odd spellings. I usually became comfortable with each new writing style within a few pages, though.


One of the stories was written entirely in an odd vernacular with a lot of made up words thrown into the mix. As a reader of science fiction and fantasy I’m completely used to made-up words and they normally don’t faze me but, combined with the vernacular, it seemed like overkill at first. I was a little overwhelmed by it on the first couple of pages, but I read a few paragraphs out loud and I found it easier to interpret it that way. Once I had gotten the voice in my head, I was easily able to read the rest of it silently and I barely even noticed the odd vernacular by the time I reached the end. I was half afraid though that, by the time I made it to the end of this book, I wouldn’t know how to spell anything properly anymore. :)


The tie between the stories was interesting but I felt like it ultimately played only a very small role in the book. I was expecting the stories to form a bigger picture that made me go “ooooh” and “aaaah”, but I felt like the connection was ultimately pretty minor in terms of their impact on events. This is the main reason why I’m giving this book four stars instead of five. I enjoyed reading the book, but I was expecting the sum of the parts to add up to more than their individual pieces and, in my opinion, they didn’t.


I can’t say much more about this book without moving into spoiler territory, so I’m going to put the rest of this review in spoiler tags. However, before moving on to the spoilers, I leave you with one last thought…. Copyright pages can have spoilers too. I caught a word in the category listing on the Copyright page that stood out and made me go, “Really?!” After that, it was way too easy for me to guess the connection between the stories. So, if you read this book for the first time, avert your eyes when you flip past the Copyright page.



In case you’re curious, the word on the Copyright page that I felt was a spoiler was the word “reincarnation”. So, yeah, I pretty much knew what the connection was from the moment the second section started and I met a new character in a later time period. Otherwise, I doubt I would have figured it out before Luisa’s section when she’s unsettled by reading about Frobisher’s birthmark. Actually, since I thought I was reading a science fiction book, I might very well have been looking for a more complicated explanation and not even considered the reincarnation angle until it was discussed more explicitly.


A few random thoughts:

* I really liked the way each character was reading/watching the story of their previous incarnation.


* I also liked the music connection – the way the piece Frobisher was composing had the same structure as the book itself.


* The Cavendish story was the oddest of the bunch in my opinion. It was interesting, but left me with a lot of questions. I really wish we’d been told what the deal was with Cavendish’s brother. Was it a joke that went wrong when he died unexpectedly, was it a miscommunication about why his brother would be staying there, or had he really intended for things to happen as they did? Why did the people in charge at the home seem to think it was perfectly normal that he had brought himself there, and yet still judge him incapable of deciding to leave on his own? And, on an unrelated topic, how did Cavendish read the lips of a girl who had her back to the window that he was supposedly reading her lips through?


* I found myself wondering if any of the antagonists were also reincarnations or if it was just the protagonist.


* Was I the only person surprised to realize it was Meronym who had the birthmark? I’d gone through most of the story up to that point thinking Zachry was the reincarnation.


* I also don’t recall ever being told for sure that Ewing had the birthmark. For a little while, during the last section, I was toying with the idea that maybe the evil doctor was actually the one. I think the author intended that it was Ewing, but it would have been interesting if it had been Dr. Goose. Then you could kind of say that he improved throughout his lives – from being completely evil and without conscience in the first story, to being rather deceitful and self-serving in the Frobisher story but not all bad, to becoming the more likeable and moral characters in the later stories.

(show spoiler)