After a week of not posting, I’m diving back in with my thoughts on the first half of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. My brain just might explode from the effort.
So Care and Melissa organized a readalong of Cloud Atlas, and since the book was sitting on the Shelf of Doom, I figured it was meant to be that I join in (if I was a more poetic person, I might use the word serendipity). We were to read the first half of the book by March 15th (which I did…I’m just a wee bit behind in the posting). And okay, I’ve finished the book already, but you’ll just have to wait until the end of the month for the rest of my thoughts. Hah!
The book: Cloud Atlas is often described as a series of nested stories. In the first half of the book, we’re introduced to five of our six characters and the first half of their stories. The stories are chronological, and fair warning, I’m about to give it all away:
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
Adam Ewing, an American notary, recounts his experiences in the Chatham Islands (near about New Zealand) and his voyage home. This section is godawful boring (Adam is a priggish boor), which explains why I’ve quit this book before. But Care assured me that it gets better, so I soldiered ahead. And found:
Letters from Zedelghem
Robert Frobisher is a bisexual, gambling, scheming young composer cast out from his family and the family money (daddy is a religious man, hence the casting out). Desperate for some money and a place to stay, he flees London for Belgium and talks himself into a position helping a syphilitic composer continue to compose. Robert writes letters home to his former lover (my conclusion based on the Luisa story that comes later), Rufus Sixsmith. After the priggish ramblings of Mr. Ewing, Robert is great fun. He also stumbles across Adam Ewing’s journal. Inexplicably, he finds it entertaining.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.
Next up we have Luisa Rey, a young journalist living in Buenas Yerbas (a mythical city somewhere in California). Luisa is trapped in an elevator with Rufus Sixsmith (see above), who sets her on a story of corruption and cover-ups in the nuclear power industry. Luisa also stumbles upon a rare recording of the Cloud Atlas Sextet, composed by, you guessed it, Robert Frobisher. A note on Buenas Yerbas…I got the impression it was big, like LA, but also set between LA and San Francisco, which puts it in the vicinity of San Luis Obispo (my stomping grounds). Did you know we have a nuclear power plant here? Diablo Canyon (seriously, that’s the name). We also have an earthquake fault. Genius, no? Moving on…
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
Timothy Cavendish is a broke indie publisher who strikes it rich when his client offs a reviewer who pissed him of. And by offed, I mean chucked him over a balcony at a party, which turns out to be a sure-fire way to have your book make the best-seller list. After his client lands in jail, the client’s brothers come after Cavendish for money. Which he doesn’t have. After he appeals to his brother for help, his brother sends him off on vacation to escape the heat. However, it turns out the brother has him committed to a retirement home. And because we need some connection to Luisa, Cavendish has in his possession the manuscript “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.” Are you starting to see how this works?
An Orison of Sonmi~451
Suddenly we’re in the future with Sonmi~451, a clone who works as a server in a cafeteria (evidently, it’s meant to be McDonald’s, but I missed that). I did finally figure out that the setting was Korea (aka Nea So Copros). Turns out Sonmi is quite the rebel. Her orison (speech or prayer) is the tale of how she became enlightened and tried to speak out for the rights of clones everywhere. In the midst of her enlightenment and rabble-rousing, she watches part of a movie: “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.” It was at this point that I was both 1) enthralled by Sonmi and where the story was going (because the world is in a world of hurt in Sonmi’s future) and 2) disturbed by the possibility that everyone’s story was just a story.
So that’s the first half of Cloud Atlas. With the exception of the first story, I absolutely loved it. Robert and Luisa were initially my favorites, but Timothy grew on me, and Sonmi was great in a baffling, “what the hell is going on here” kind of way. I ended the first half and had to keep going…I wanted to find out what happened to everyone!
And in true softdrink fashion, I was less concerned with the themes. There are some recurring themes and symbols in the book (birthmarks and reincarnation, clouds, the fate of the planet…you know…serious shit like that), but I was just in it for the story.
Check back in later this month to see how that worked out for me in the end.