Cloud Atlas – a bit too much like showing off for my liking
Written in 2004, Cloud Atlas consists of six separate stories that span the centuries, ranging from the 19th century to a distant post-apocalyptic future. The first five stories all are interrupted at a crucial moment and, after the sixth story reaches its conclusion, we return to the first five in reverse chronological order, ending back in the 19th century (Still with me?)
Each story is written in a different style to the previous one. Whilst I think this is a great skill, it also seemed a bit like showing off to me. The first four stories I found entertaining enough, but by the fifth and sixth I got rather bored and impatient to return to the fourth.
The first story is entitled The Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing. Slowly throughout this story, we see how it affects the central character in the second story, entitled Letters From Zedelghem. This story is all told in the form of Letters to and from Robert Frobisher. Again, in the third story (Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery) we see how Frobisher has affected the life of Luisa Rey. This story is a mystery thriller set in California.
The fourth story is a daft British comedy, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish. In this, the protagonist reads a book about Luisa Rey, thereby linking him to the grand scheme of things. From here, things get futuristic, with the fifth story about a dystopian future and a slave called Sonmi-451. To my mind, this story is too futuristic, with too much jargon and goes on far too long. Sonmi-451 watches a film about Timothy Cavendish which is how she links in to the book.
Lastly is Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After. This is even more distant future after some terrible event known simply as ‘the fall’. Humans are once again reduced to primitivism and worship a goddess called, yep you guessed it, Sonmi.
Cloud Atlas is quite a challenging book to read. As the stories jump around I found it didn’t really hold my attention, which has been one of the biggest criticisms of it. However, it has mostly received praise and positive reviews so I’m willing to accept it’s a good book, but only about half of it was to my taste.
“To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you assume we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.” from An Orison of Sonmi-451.
“I elbowed my way into the grubby café, bought a pie that tasted of shoe polish and a pot of tea with cork crumbs floating in it, and eavesdropped on a pair of Shetland pony breeders. Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led. Why have you given your life to books, TC? Dull, dull, dull! The memoirs are bad enough, but all that ruddy fiction! Hero goes on a journey, stranger comes to town, somebody wants something, they get it or they don’t, will is pitted against will. “Admire me, for I am a metaphor.” from The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.
If you liked the dystopian future you might like 1984
If you like the detective mystery thriller you might like The Maltese Falcon