Review–Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
Summary: A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.
In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

Source: I checked this title out for Kindle via my local library.



This book has been on my to-read list for ages. It sounded like such an interesting novel and I’ve stumbled upon so many quotes I’ve liked from the novel. After seeing the visually stunning movie previews, I put my name on the library waiting list and vowed the read the book before seeing the movie.

While reading, I had no idea how I felt about the book, but I hoped that would change as I got further and further along. Unfortunately, I’m done and I still don’t really know how I feel about it, hence the 3 star rating. The best way to for me to organize my thoughts in cases like these is to go over what I liked and what I didn’t like.

What I liked about the book: The author is an amazing writer and one with a wide range of talent considering the various voices he was able to write from. Each short story fully immerses itself in its own time through the narrator’s language. In the two futuristic stories, the author was able to make up his own words, creating a new language to write from and yet it made sense to me as the reader. I cannot deny this it is an incredible talent to master the language of each time period.

The layout of the book was also quite brilliant. The first 5 stories end abruptly in the middle. The 6th story is told in full, and the remaining halves of the 5 are told in reverse chronological story. The main characters in each story find something from the story before, for example, in the second story, the character finds the journal of the narrator of the first story. Each story follows a similar path and I feel like the characters all had some sort of epiphany at the end of their stories and all of the stories are linked in some way.

I really enjoyed the story of Sonmi. As a stand alone short story, I would give it 5 stars and then some. I felt like I connected with the character and I felt out of all the other narrators, she told her story the best.

Each story has an important revelation of human nature. I’ve highlighted a handful of quotes from each story that spoke to me on that level. Questions of greed and selfishness and cruelty and power are all there in each story. I can appreciate a novel that tries to tackle what it means to be human and I liked some of the points Cloud Atlas made.

What I didn’t like about the book: While all of the stories are linked in some way and share some parallels, I still can’t help but feel like their connections are weak. The connections are brilliant, especially when it comes to the repeating themes in each story, but I can’t help but feel like the very fact that this is a novel and not 6 separate short stories is a way of showing off the author’s ability to write such distinctly different stories. It guarantees that we all search for the connections and are exposed to his different styles of writing and I just feel like it’s pretentious. I hate to say that, but it’s just the way I felt while reading it and I couldn’t shake the feeling.

While I was more interesting in some stories over others, which I think was due mainly to my normal preferences, I felt like I didn’t really care about most of the stories or the characters in them. Even though I now know the overall theme and picture, I still can’t bring myself to say that I felt anything more than curiosity reading most of the stories. I wanted so badly to connect and to care about the characters, but I just didn’t. It was like I knew I was reading a good book and it was interesting, but I also wasn’t loving it and turning the pages eagerly. I just remained distantly curious.

The book was almost written too well and the writing overpowered the story. The book ceased to be profound because I was reading with one eyebrow raised, waiting to see what else the author would flash in front of me. I frequently talk about how I dislike when authors tell me instead of showing me something in a book, but I may have to amend how I word that to: Show, don't just tell, but don't show off!

Overall, this was a brilliant book and I see why so many other people love it. Unfortunately, I wanted to love this book and I didn’t. I will recommend this book to others because I think other people will appreciate the story more than I did. Writing gimmicks sometimes work for me and other times they backfire and this is one of those books that backfired for me. I still plan on seeing the movie because it looks amazing and I know it’s done a bit differently. I think a lot of what I didn’t enjoy was the writing, even though the writing was brilliant, if that makes any sense at all. I suspect I will truly enjoy the movie, as it will be stripped of the writing style that rubbed me the wrong way.    

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