A review of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”

“‘It’s not at all like you. Not much like anyone. But it hypnotizes.’” – pg. 76

Cloud Atlas is one of the most singular books I have ever read. It is vivid in uniqueness and David Mitchell is obviously a gifted writer. The individuality of the novel first manifests itself in its structure. Cloud Atlas is actually six smaller ‘books’, each of which takes place at a different moment in time including the far past, the recent past, the near future and the far future. The six books are not in chronological order and Mitchell creates momentum in his volume by splitting each of the six books to create 11 sections.

Halle Berry and Tom Hanks star in the 2012 adaption of "Cloud Atlas" Photo Courtesy of IMDB

Halle Berry and Tom Hanks star in the 2012 adaption of “Cloud Atlas”
(Photo Courtesy of IMDB)

Most of the stories contained in the novel were excellent, filled with gripping action and likable, interesting characters. Some I liked better than others, especially “Half Lives: A Luisa Rey Mystery,” which took place in the seventies and was about a young journalist investigating the misdeeds of a power plant, and “An Orison of Sonomi~451,” which was a futuristic interview of a rouge clone before her extermination. Although both of these stories were excellent, their readability is what truly drew me to them. While all of the stories were good, some – especially the one that took place in the far future – were steeped with strange idioms and colloquialisms, making the novel somewhat difficult to get through. This caused the few stories that were written in a familiar style to be a relief.

Usually when I read, what I take away from books are the actions, thoughts and feelings of the characters. Part of what made Cloud Atlas so unusual for me was that its characters were literally almost physical manifestations of the theme, and what I got from it was almost completely thematic rather than the usual mix of concrete and abstract. Mitchell was concerned with the ways in which we are all interconnected through time and distance, and wove this into every aspect of the novel. From his characters, who all bore the same comet-shaped birthmark, to the musical piece “Cloud Atlas”, which appeared in almost every story at least once, Mitchell made a point to underline the brief, seemingly arbitrary connections between us. A few years down the road, I’m not sure if the particulars of the book will bear remembering – but this message will stick out for its depth and subconscious applicability.

Where Cloud Atlas lost its footing was in its transitions. Though each story on its own was beautiful, unique and gripping, it was difficult as a reader to jump so quickly through space and time, particularly since several of the stories were told in the first person. Especially when the culture of the new story was strange, I sometimes struggled to reacclimate myself to what was going on and to remember what had already happened. Additionally, it was frustrating to leave a story abruptly that I’d spent forty or fifty pages becoming invested in.

"Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies" -pg. 265 Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies” -pg. 265
(Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

That being said, however, Cloud Atlas was an incredibly strong novel. It was innovative and wise, and I enjoyed it immensely. The future was realistic (corporations run the world) and the past was equally convincing. Mitchell’s talent shone through his ability to write in so many different, believable voices from a nineteenth century American man to a female clone in the future. I would recommend it to any reader, but be warned: this is not a light book nor is it perfect, and getting through it may take time and energy. In essence, it is not quite like anything I’ve ever read before – but it most certainly hypnotizes.


SCORE: 4/5


Katie Joiner is an English and Secondary Education major with a minor in Spanish. She is a self-proclaimed bibliophile, enjoys Earl Grey tea, and adores the College.

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Katie is an Anthropology and Spanish double major. She is a self-proclaimed bibliophile, enjoys Earl Grey, and adores the College. She is a contributor at CisternYard News.

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