“In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?”
The quote above was mentioned by Robert Frobisher, the composer in the second story of this book. He was describing here his work, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. This is also an analogy to the structure of this David Mitchell novel. Cloud Atlas is composed of six stories. Each story was cut in the middle, and then followed by the next story, until the sixth. Then each was continued until we go back again to the first story (like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1).
I finished reading Cloud Atlas two months ago but I haven’t been able to write my thoughts until now. I read this simultaneously with four friends and we talked about this since we started last August. Since our group chat has already stopped, (Who would have thought we would stop? LOL) I had this urge to write down some thoughts (as if this will put a closure to this amazing Cloud Atlas ride).
Each of the six stories of Cloud Atlas is written in different formats: through a journal, letters, a novel, a movie, an interrogation, and an oral storytelling. It is like 6 different books by 6 different authors. And we get to travel from one time period and genre to another. One distinct variation that I admire is the language used in each part. I love how language evolved through each story, from Adam Ewing’s 1800s English to Sloosha’s post-apocalyptic words with a lot of apostrophes. (These chapters were the most difficult for me to read because of the language.) And as I immersed myself in the worlds created by Mitchell, I fell in love with the main characters. An Orison of Sonmi-451 and Letters from Zedelghem are my favorite chapters. In these, my favorite characters can be found.
Each individual story has an exciting plot and can exist on their own. But despite the differences in settings and genre, each is connected to the other. The story that precedes a story can be read or watched or listened to in the next. This aspect, this structure, is what others may call gimmicky. But I think it’s an effective strategy to show how things and people are connected. The recurring theme of power, survival, and morality are also depicted across time. Reading the stories is fulfilling on their own, but once you think and start to put the ideas and the themes together, I can say that they became more meaningful. It’s definitely proper to say that here, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
At first, I didn’t bother to examine the connection of the stories, delving too much into the details and their meaning. But talking and sharing thoughts with friends about a book made me think more about how the stories and the characters are connected. I may not understand everything that Mitchell wanted to say in this novel, but it did have a sort of effect on me. This may sound weird but this book made me feel more connected, like I became more aware that I am connected to people around me, to people from the past and also to those in the future. It’s amazing to contemplate about how an act or an object can transcend through time.
I first heard about this book because of the movie. Then it was recommended by a friend from a book club, and it was also included in TFG’s Recommendation List. Those times, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know David Mitchell. I started reading without any idea about the story and how it was written. But I think knowing so little about the novel made my whole reading experience more enjoyable. I have no idea about the structure until I reached the 2nd or the 3rd chapter. I was surprised. I agree with those David Mitchell fans that this is a very intelligent work. He made a lot of references. We can see how he made the connections in each story, how he managed to connect the characters and the themes. Just the idea of the structure, being unconventional, and the theme of recurrence and connectedness already amazed me. And these he incorporated and carried out brilliantly. I can’t wait for January to read his Ghostwritten next. Also because I’ll be reading it with the same awesome friends.