The book is six different stories. The only obvious link between the protagonists of each story is the comet shaped birthmark each has. In the book the stories are nested in each other like russian dolls, like this:
Each stories progresses further into the future, the first starting during the gold rush, the second in 1931 etc, until the last one which is set in a very distant future. Here's a quick précis of the main points of each story in order (without spoilers), it's fairly involved so if you want you can skip to the actual reviews without confusion:
- The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing ~ This takes the form of the diary of Adam Ewing; a notary who has sailed to the Chatham islands. He witnesses the flogging of a black slave and also encounters a doctor named Goose who asks to cure him of a parasite. He and Goose eventually board a ship to return to America but Ewing finds the black slave has also snuck onto the boat.
- Letters from Zedelghem ~ Robert Frobisher is an aspiring composer who has been disowned by his father. He travels to Belgium to become to musical assistant (a.k.a an amanuensis) to an old composer who hasn't written a piece of music in years. This section takes the form of letters from Frobisher to his lover, Sixsmith in Cambridge.
- Half Lives - The First Luisa Rey Mystery ~ Set in the '80s, a young reporter gets stuck in an elevator with an old scientist and a few days later when they had agreed to meet again, she finds him dead, apparently a suicide. She believes it has something to do with a contraversal paper he had written about a new nuclear power plant, which she decides to investigate.
- The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish ~ An old, unsuccessful editor one day witnesses one of his clients murder a book critic for giving his new auto-biography a bad review. Due to this event the book begins to sell very successfully but Timothy Cavendish (the editor) gets into debt very quickly but over-spending. He resorts to asking his brother for help who tricks him into going to a hotel which turns out to be a old people's home. Once he realises the hell he is in, he plans his escape.
- An Orison of Sonmi~451 ~ Set in a dystopian future where genetic modification is a reality, a race of workers called Fabricants work as the slaves for humans, being promised that if they finish 12 years of loyal service they will be sent to "exhalation". One day one of the Fabricants called Sonmi~451 is broken free from her place of work and exposed to a world that changes her, but also which she could potentially change forever.
- Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After ~ Set in a future even further than that of Sonmi~451, this tells the story of Zachary, an inhabitant of an island in a post-apocalyptic world. Occasionally another race of humans who are superior in intelligence and technology visit until one of them decides to stay and live with the island folk for a while, to study their ways. Zachary is haunted by something that plants the seeds of doubt about the newcomer; he believes they have come to find a way to invade the island which is already menaced by a savage race called the Kona.
The BookI found the first section very hard to get into, the writing was in a genuine 'olde' style and a bit challenging, with some added complicated local history and terminology. This was probably my least favourite story due to its lack of appealing ideas and aforementioned reading challenge, followed by the Timothy Cavendish section, which I found to have a much darker brand of humour in the book, which was interesting.
However, next section the reading became enjoyable. My favourite stories were the Frobisher letters, which were witty and thoughtful, with a beautiful insight into a mind that thinks in music. I also adored the Sonmi~451 section, the ideas of the future seemed accurate and plausible, I could have read a whole novel just on that story. The same sentiment can be applied to the Sloosha's Crossing story, again, chillingly believable but insanely imaginative.
The stories in the book were much more complex than film, which is to be expected. There were more characters and more plot twists. I loved the combination of subtle and more obvious parallels between the stories; some of the memories the main characters share weren't try-hard or predictable and I personally would not have seen the conclusion without guidance. I also noticed some name places and certain terms like 'sextet' and 'cuckold' were used in all the stories (I also read the number 6 is recurrent).
I have to do hand it to David Mitchell, the different styles in which he writes really shows what a talented author he is - each of the stories could have been written by completely different authors during different time periods.
Overall, even though it was a rocky start, I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas, the book. Recommended!
The FilmOne of the main differences between the book and film was the layout of the stories, there was no real structure and the action flicked between different sections. Having said that pace was impressively well kept, I never felt lost and the jumps between stories never felt jarring or confusing.
There was also the extra dimension of same actors playing different characters. Sometimes the prosthetic were a bit funny most of the time I didn't mind - the premise of the film is slightly ridiculous and theatrical, so why can't the visuals be as well? Some ideas were subtly imaginative too, like the crude implants seen on the faces of those in Sloosha's Crossing. For the most part I liked the multiple roles although once I thought about (which I did a lot) there wasn't much of a link between the characters played by the same actor (here's a cool infograph that summarises this). It was still interesting and added to the theme of the same soul being born in different times, taking different paths.
However, I found the very overt personification of Old Georgie from the future future story curious; I'm not sure they managed to pull it off completely - it reminded me a bit of a combination of Old Greg and the Hitcher from the Mighty Boosh series unfortunately, since I don't think it was supposed to be comical.
It was also interesting to see where original stories had been changed slightly and Hollywood tropes were added; there were more romances as well more violence/fighting. For the most part these changes weren't hugely offensive but the book provided a lot more of a variety of relationships, not just blossoming romantic ones. I did however really like the ending of Sloosha's Crossing, it was just a really cute bit of closure. The only story I didn't like was Timothy Cavendish's - it was like the comic relief character, but a whole story line instead of just one person.
Overall, even though some of it was handles a little clumsily I still really enjoyed Cloud Atlas, the film. It may not have been as thoughtful as the book but it was entertaining.
That's my opinion but I would really love to hear anyone else's on either the book or the film, or both! Which was your favourite? Which story was your favourite! If you don't want to leave a comment, tweet me (@L_Figment); I've heard so many different opinions and each one is super interesting!