I’ve just finished reading all 509 pages of Cloud Atlas and my opinion of the book has changed. After I finished the first story, I realized that the writing style changes from story to story and the other ones are not as hard (though still difficult, but the first one is written in a sort of antique prose style). If you find this book not making sense at any point, just keep on reading please. You’ll be surprised at how everything just comes together like a jigsaw puzzle in the end.
This book consists of six interlocking novellas that are told in two halves, meaning that they will end abruptly and then continue later on in the book. You might not understand why it’s like this at first, but you’ll get it once you finish the book. He has a very good reason to do it.
The story starts out with Adam Ewing’s journal. He’s a notary who’s returning to San Francisco on a boat that is managed by a bunch of cruel men. His only friend is a doctor who is trying to treat the parasite in Adam’s brain. In the second story, the journal is being read by Robert Frobisher, who exchanges his musical talents for a roof over his head with a famous composer. His experiences are written in the form of letters. The addressee is his friend Rufus Sixsmith. In the third story, Luisa Rey meets the older Sixsmith. Luisa is a journalist who later almost turns into a detective because she suspects that something is wrong in the nuclear power station. You get the idea. I won’t spoil it by telling you about the other 3 stories. Once you finish the last story though, Mitchell takes you back to the second half of the other stories in reversed order, meaning that the journal will be the last one. I think this whole arrangement is really clever and atypical. It shows that there is a story behind every story waiting to be heard.
I pretty much agree with Bookpage: “Cloud Atlas is such an astounding feat that it’s tempting to think there must be several David Mitchells, each of whom wrote one part of this book.” You get a taste of everything. It’s amazing how Mitchell managed to get so many genres and literary styles packed in one book.
What’s the point of reading 6 totally different stories that somehow overlap one another? The answer is belief. Belief is what holds Cloud Atlas together. Mitchell has hinted many times throughout the book that although the main characters have totally different reputations, intelligence, attitudes, and personalities, they are actually one person. Traversing through time and space, he or she is repeating the same life in a sense. He is a seeker, she is a rebel. He is mixed-up, she tries to seek truth. But the reality they end up facing are all the same. Advances in technology and changes in time are merely deceits. The strong will always abuse the weak, turning these characters’ life upside down. As the novel comes to an end, all the suspense, all the uncertainties will have an answer. But seeing how the stories will end is not the point. The point is the belief they have left us with:
“He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”