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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas (original 2004; edition 2004)

by David Mitchell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
11,168459251 (4.14)4 / 1097
Title:Cloud Atlas
Authors:David Mitchell
Info:Sceptre (2004), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 544 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:ascention, reincarnation, civilisation, dystopia, past, future, destiny

Work details

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)

  1. 120
    If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: Different yet both well-written approaches to meta-fiction.
  2. 102
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (pgmcc)
    pgmcc: Really enjoyable set of related stories with the author's well deomonstrated skill
  3. 114
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (sturlington)
  4. 71
    The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (TomWaitsTables, PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: A theme of reincarnation used to balance Karma flows through the story.
  5. 84
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (jbvm, souloftherose)
    jbvm: Without giving anything away, after you've read both you'll understand my recommendation.
    souloftherose: Both novels are occasionally experimental in style with interconnected short stories. They are also both very good.
  6. 40
    Number9Dream by David Mitchell (PghDragonMan)
  7. 41
    Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (Rynooo, browner56, pfeldman)
    browner56: Highly imaginative works, particularly the phonetic recreations of the English language
  8. 30
    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (JenMDB, sturlington)
    sturlington: Both have unusual narrative structures and explore the theme of reincarnation.
  9. 52
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (sturlington)
  10. 30
    Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (PghDragonMan)
  11. 20
    The Children of Men by P. D. James (JenMDB)
  12. 31
    Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (novelcommentary)
  13. 20
    The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (JenMDB)
  14. 10
    TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (suniru)
  15. 10
    The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (Ludi_Ling)
    Ludi_Ling: For those interested in disparate yet intertwining narratives of a somewhat fantastical nature.
  16. 10
    Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru (Tinwara)
  17. 21
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (generalkala)
    generalkala: Similar multi-strand, multi-era novel.
  18. 10
    The Islanders by Christopher Priest (tetrachromat)
  19. 21
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Anonymous user)
  20. 10
    Girl Reading by Katie Ward (rarm)
    rarm: Girl Reading isn't as intricately constructed as Cloud Atlas, but both books use linked stories to carry a theme through the centuries and into the future.

(see all 30 recommendations)


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English (445)  Dutch (5)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  Czech (1)  German (1)  All languages (458)
Showing 1-5 of 445 (next | show all)
I've heard awesome things about Cloud Atlas all year. I avoided buying it until I was able to get 70% off at Borders (which is closing), because I often have trouble with book that are so hyped by everyone. I didn't want to waste my money. But, the $7.50ish I did end up spending on the book was worth it. By far, my favorite part of the book was "An Orison of Sonmi-451."

To be fair, though, it did take quite a while for me to get into the books. And once we got to the story of Zachry on Hawaii, I really had trouble. The language was really sluggish and hard for me to get through. I mean, it was a chapter that was absolutely necessary to the overall story. But at the same time, it was the least interesting.

I'm interested to see the film that I believe is currently in the works. Tom Hanks is set to star as Dr. Henry Goose. I'm interested to see how this will be translated into film. ( )
  Shannon29 | Jun 25, 2015 |
I saw this novel as a symphony - like music, it builds up crescendo with characters and various situations to a centralled-placed story, then goes back down to close each respective narratives to their final resolution, in reverse order to the first part. This is not the usual chapters' mix-n-match you can find in some novels, but each of them are linked via one single item in common: music (with the Cloud Atlas sextet), a journal, a tattoo, etc. I enjoyed the novel very much - it was a refreshing change from the usual, as it mixes genres and switch narrative voice/register in each chapter. I did not find it difficult in terms of reading and it didn't take me time to get used to it - instead, I went on reading for hours and I can safely say that once you get your 'teeth' into this book, you won't want to put it down again. All in all, it is well worth the read! ( )
  soniaandree | Jun 24, 2015 |
I first read this novel about ten years ago, shortly after it was published, and was entranced by it then. Re-reading it now, knowing what happens and how the novel works, I found it just as extraordinary.

I have been trying to work out how to describe it, but although I have now read it four or five times I still feel stumped. Essentially the book consists of six separate though complementary stories, arranged in a concentric structure, that leaves the reader unsure as to what is meant to be real and what was in the imagination of the characters. But even that doesn't really do justice to the complexity of the plot. There are tales within tales, and numerous passing references that will resonate again and again throughout the book.

I know that if I were to read that second paragraph, I would probably be rolling my eyes and writing the book off as a sort of stunt, and perhaps a pitiful triumph of style over substance or form over content. Mitchell is, however, far too good a writer to fall for that mistake.

First attempt …

I could, for example, summarise it as follows: Timothy Cavendish, a vanity publisher, has to leave London in a hurry and, by chance, takes with him a copy of the first half of a manuscript recently submitted to him by an aspiring author. This manuscript revolves around an investigation by journalist Luisa Rey, into the development of a new nuclear power station in California in the 1970s. Her research was prompted by a chance meeting with Nobel Laureate, Rufus Sixsmith, who had chaired a commission considering the safety of the power station. Alone among the commission members, Sixsmith had voiced concerns, provoking the ire of the multinational company building the power plant. We learn that in his youth, as an undergraduate at Cambridge in the 1930s, Sixsmith had loved Robert Frobisher, a dissolute character with ambitions to be a composer, but who had fled from Britain to avoid the more enterprising of his creditors, finding lodgings near Bruges in the household of Vivien Ayrs, an eccentric and renowned English composer who had succumbed to the musician's equivalent of writer's block. While in Ayrs's home, Frobisher had become engrossed in a nineteenth century manuscript that he had discovered. Cavendish is beset with strife (which he characterises as his 'ghastly ordeal'), and in the future a film will be made cataloguing his adventures (or misadventures). In the twenty-second century, in a dystopian society in Korea, that film inspires an uprising of 'fabricants', (essentially clones) that rocks civilisation to its core, leading to a split between primitive tribes, struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world in which technology has been lost, and so-called 'Prescients' who observe the lives of the tribes from the safety of their high tech world, but do not generally intervene, though one of their number is convinced that some deep secret, fundamental to man's history, is awaiting her discovery in what we assume is meant to be Hawaii.

That may all sound rather involved, but it is in fact an egregious oversimplification, so I shall try again …

The first story, recounted in chapters on and eleven, takes the form of a journal composed by Adam Ewing, an American lawyer travelling back from Polynesia to San Francisco. Ewing is a Christian and appalled at the godless behaviour of the ship's crew and officers, and has been more or less ostracised, finding relief only in the company of his friend Dr Goose. Before setting sail he goes exploring Chatham island and sees a Moriori slave being lashed by a Maori. Their eyes meet briefly, and the slave recognises pity for him and disgust at the spectacle in Ewing's eyes. After the homeward voyage begins, it transpires that the Moriori slave has escaped and stowed away in Ewing's cabin, throwing himself on the latter's mercy. Ewing gradually succumbs to an ailment, manifested through dizziness and fainting, which Goose diagnoses as the consequence of a virulent parasite, and which he starts to treat with a potion of his own devising. Ewing seems to suffer increasingly worse attacks as the voyage continues.

This section ends in mid-sentence.

The second story, taking chapters two and ten, is told through the medium of a series of letters sent in 1931 by Robert Frobisher, a prodigal, indigent young musician who aspires to be a great composer, to Rufus Sixsmith, his former gay lover. Cut off by his affluent and aristocratic family, and sent down from his Cambridge college, he flees his creditors to Belgium where he manages to inveigle his way into the household of ageing and ailing English composer Vyvyan Ayrs who lives with his ennobled Belgian wife Jocasta, taking up the role of amanuensis to the older man. Frobisher starts to work on a piece that he calls the Cloud Atlas Sextet, in which he tries to capture an air that he seems to have heard before, though he can't tell when. Oddly, Ayrs also seems to know the piece. In between his work on the music Frobisher peruses the library in the house where he finds, and becomes captivated by, a copy of Adam Ewing's journal.

The third story (covering chapters three and nine) then kicks in, taking the form of a crime novel set in California in 1975 and featuring Luisa Rey, an investigative journalist who is looking into the furore surrounding the impending launch of a nuclear power station constructed by Seaboard. Local environmentalists are protesting against the power plant and claim that critical reports have been suppressed. By chance Luisa has met Rufus Sixsmith when the lift that they were sharing ground to a halt during a power cut. Sixsmith had recently completed a report which identified a number of flaws with the power plant, but has not yet been able to publish it, and fears that Seaboard will attempt either to suppress the report or discredit him. Sixsmith is found dead in his hotel room where Luisa finds a bundle of Frobisher's letters which Sixsmith has treasures for the last forty years. While driving across a causeway from the power plant another car forces Luisa's VW Beetle off the road and into the sea.

The novel then moves to the fourth story (in chapters four and eight) which takes the form of a memoir by Timothy Cavendish, a literary agent. Having spent most of his career avoiding any semblance of success he suddenly finds himself making a mint from Knuckle Sandwich, the ghost-written biography of an East London criminal. Unfortunately, this success brings its own difficulties and Cavendish has to flee London to escape the criminal's family who are anxious for their own cut of the profits. Among the random papers that he takes with him is the manuscript of the novel Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, which he finds entertaining and contemplates publishing when things calm down. Through a series of comic misunderstandings Cavendish ends up an inmate of a brutal retirement home near Hull.

We then move to the fifth story (chapters five and seven), set in the 22nd century in a dystopian society. This story is presented in the form of a lengthy interview by an official archivist of Somni-451, a "fabricant" (i.e. clone) who had been instrumental in sparking off a revolution against the totalitarian consumerist society in which she lives. At one stage Somni 451 describes how her happiest hour had been when she had watched the opening half of an antique film called The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.

The sixth story, called Sloosha's Crossin' and Ev'rythin' After, which forms the central section of the novel. This is set in a post-apocalyptic future and is recounted by Zachry, a tribesman from what the reader gradually infers is Hawaii. His community scratches out a living through simple agriculture and hunting, but is troubled by attacks from violent neighbouring people called the Kona. Twice a year they are visited by the Prescients, members of a more advanced race who have retained their knowledge of science and technology. Zachry and his tribe have a simple faith which features a goddess-like figures called Somni, though little is known about her deeds or past.

As I said earlier, the novel has a 'concentric' structure, rather like literary matryoshka or a model of the Ptolemaic cosmology. I would stress, though, that while the novel has this complex form, David Mitchell weaves the connections and echoes between the six stories very deftly, creating a very rich tapestry, and the overall effect is astounding. The format is unusual, but this does not interfere with the reader's enjoyment of, or immersion in, the story. It is like reading six novels at the same time, with a wealthy seam of cross-reference enhancing the reader's enjoyment.

My only slight cavil is that the sections dealing with Somni-451 and Zachry's story are slightly longer than necessary, but the depth of the story ensures that the reader's attention doesn't flag.

Over the last thirty-five years (since I started to list them) I have read well over four thousand books, and this is certainly in my top ten. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jun 21, 2015 |
While I thought the book was very difficult to read at times, I was completely entrhralled the deeper and deeper I got; much like quicksand, I could have easily gotten out in the beginning by simply not struggling and reaching for an easier read, however I plowed through the very archaic jargon of the 1800's and fumbled my way through paragraph after paragraph of French (which I do not speak) and soon enough I was up to my neck. I don't highlight books, often because I don't find enough of what is being said to be so striking, but I my kindle has never been so jaundiced. This book is funny, thought provoking, entertaining, adventurous, everything I look for and more. Power through the beginning of the first two life times and it will be worth your while. ( )
  wkeblejr | Jun 12, 2015 |
No one needs me to tell them how brilliant David Mitchell is, so I'll just pose a question, instead: How would this book would read backward? Not word for word, of course, but chapter by chapter, especially if one hasn't yet read it forward. If anyone is willing to try that, let me know how it goes. ( )
  randalrh | May 25, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 445 (next | show all)
Cloud Atlas is powerful and elegant because of Mitchell's understanding of the way we respond to those fundamental and primitive stories we tell about good and evil, love and destruction, beginnings and ends. He isn't afraid to jerk tears or ratchet up suspense - he understands that's what we make stories for.

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Mitchellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Campbell, CassandraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guest, Kim MaiNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heyborne, KirbyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mijn, Aad van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Hana and her grandparents.
First words
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.
Oh, once you've been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn't want you back.
Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.
The stationmaster's whistle blew on time, the locomotive strained like a gouty proctor on the pot before heaving itself into motion.
"Are you mad?"
Always a trickier question than it looks. "I doubt it."
Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
The book consists of six nested stories that take us from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is revealed to be a story that is read (or watched) by the main character in the next.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375507256, Paperback)

Now a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant, and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer

A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian lore of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”—The New York Times Book Review

“One of those how-the-holy-hell-did-he-do-it? modern classics that no doubt is—and should be—read by any student of contemporary literature.”—Dave Eggers

“Wildly entertaining . . . a head rush, both action-packed and chillingly ruminative.”—People
“The novel as series of nested dolls or Chinese boxes, a puzzle-book, and yet—not just dazzling, amusing, or clever but heartbreaking and passionate, too. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I’m grateful to have lived, for a while, in all its many worlds.”—Michael Chabon

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:09 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Recounts the connected stories of people from the past and the distant future, from a nineteenth-century notary and an investigative journalist in the 1970s to a young man who searches for meaning in a post-apocalyptic world.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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