Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas
Publisher: Sceptre
Pub Date (Original): 17 August 2004
Genre: Literary Fiction

Panda Rating:

(4.5 pandas)

📖 SYNOPSIS

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.

⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

Slavery, infidelity, drug use, crude humour, racism, attempted murder, violence, blood/gore, mutilation, suicide, rape (graphic on-page, off-page)

TL;DR: I don’t even know how to describe this book. It encompasses so much and it covers such a wide breadth of genres and topics that it might not have worked together if the author wasn’t half as talented. Luckily for us, David Mitchell has an incredible way with words and the ability to bring such vivid and vastly different characters, settings and stories to life. Cloud Atlas is complex and not always easy to read but it’s worth sticking to because it’s incredibly well-written and it’ll make you think and feel so much, and it’s impossible to not feel connected to these stories by the end. It’s safe to say that this is gonna stick with me for a while and it’s going on my faves list!

This is gonna be a tough book to review because I can’t really get into it without really getting into spoiler territory… Not only that, I feel like there’s something about this book that’s unexplainable and that you have to read it for yourself to experience and appreciate its brilliance. It’s beautifully complex, whimsical and fantastical—what an imagination David Mitchell has and he’s done an incredible job executing it! I have to admit that I initially struggled to get through the first chapters but I listened along with the audiobook this time and it really helped me get over that first hurdle. Honestly, I’m so glad that it made me want to keep reading because otherwise, I would’ve missed out on such a great book! Also, I would definitely recommend the audiobook as the performances by the various actors were done quite well and made everything come even more to life—my personal faves were the voices for Frobisher and Cavendish because I felt they captured their characters so well!

“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”

Cloud Atlas links the stories of six individuals—Adam Ewing, Robert Frobisher, Luisa Rey, Timothy Cavendish, Sonmi-451 and Zachary, and follows a timeline that spans from the 1800s to a post-apocalyptic future that sees a decimated world where humanity must re-evolve from hunters and gatherers once more. The overall arc is told in such a unique way and it’s a bit hard to explain but it’s basically like following a pyramid structure as the stories build upward until we hit the peak and then come back down again as each storyline and character arc concludes with stronger ties to one another. I loved the string of interconnectedness and the concept of reincarnation/rebirth that winds through and connects each story in some way, although I thought this aspect was stronger on the other side of the pyramid as the stories concluded. By that point, I had also developed such a connection with certain characters that I found myself in tears by the time their stories ended—it was surprisingly very emotional!

“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.”

The way Cloud Atlas is told really showcases Mitchell’s brilliance because of how well he manages to not only give distinct voices to his characters but also manages to create vivid settings and events through the use of multiple formats such as diary entries, letters, interviews, and even stream of consciousness. Not only that but his use of languages was amazing; from the formal overtones of the 1800s to the newly made-up verbiage in the futuristic corpocracy to a de-evolved form of (what I think was) Hawaiian pidgin in the post-apocalypse. The stories also touch on various genres, from historical fiction to thriller/mystery, and science-fiction and all of them were just so well-written, you’d think that the author writes in all those genres all the time! This book was humorous and entertaining but also tackles heavy topics like slavery, exploitation, social injustices, poverty and inequality, consumerism, and the human capacity for greed and power. So many of the topics touched upon are still so relevant in today’s society and it made the messages hit that much harder. My mind was truly blown by how much this book encompasses and I appreciated the writing so much!

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.”

Overall, I’m so glad that I finally ended up reading this book as it’s one that I’ve had sitting on my shelf for the longest time! I’m happy that I didn’t decide to just give it away before giving it another shot because I have a feeling this will slowly work its way into my all-time favourites list. I’m also kind of tempted to check out the movie because the trailer looks brilliant and part of me wants to see these characters and stories come to life but I already spotted a few differences and I’m kind of worried that it just won’t live up to my expectations! Has anyone read the book and watched the movie and if you have, was the movie (comparably) good/would you recommend it?

Have you read Cloud Atlas or is it on your TBR?

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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