Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2/5)

7 Jan

As many of you know, I’ve been reading this book for a long time. A really long time, like seven months or something crazy. I picked it up on my phone as an ebook to read when I was bored, waiting for something, etc. I don’t think this is a book that’s read well in that style. The plots were spaced so far apart it was hard to keep them straight and it was easy to miss the connections between the plots if you weren’t paying attention because the kid next to you at the chiropractor was adorable and distracting. Might I have enjoyed this book more as an audio or physical book? Possibly. Do I care to find out? No.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Summary from Goodreads:

Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. . . . Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. . . . From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. . . . And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

But the story doesn’t end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

I’m glad I read the summary of this book before diving into it. I think I would have been beyond confused if I hadn’t had an inkling of what was going to happen when I picked it up. The stories were all very different, which was a blessing and a curse. Mitchell used very  different styles for each and it helped them not blend together as I was reading. The curse was that I disliked the styles in a few of them (Ewing the most) and was waiting to get back to others so I could read the stories I liked the most (Luisa). I think it was an ambitious book and I congratulate Mitchell on finishing it, but I was overwhelmed by the scope of it and I think it was a bit much.

It’s hard to comment on the characters in Mitchell’s future worlds and how accurately they were written, but I really enjoyed the present and past characters. Frobisher was particularly fun to read and probably my favorite character. He was very single-minded and very complex. I liked how he was writing these very open letters to Sixsmith about who he loved and how sad he was, all the while telling Sixsmith that he loved him. It seemed backward but it made sense at the same time. Luisa was a powerful female and the book needed one. I liked her drive and determination even when the men around her didn’t believe in her.

I’ll say definitely that Frobisher was my favorite. He wasn’t afraid of anything and it made for really fun adventures. He found his way to the house of a man he respected and then made love to his wife. Then he tells the man he loves that in reality, he has feelings for their daughter. He challenges his patron on ownership of their music and runs away when he’s gotten what he needs from the relationship. He’s no moral example, but he’s a great character. His sections were easy enough to read though I still think Luisa and Cavendish’s were easiest to read.

With al of the wild adventures going on, I felt like Sixsmith was the most relatable. He was the only character I noticed who lived in two of the stories. Others were of course mentioned, but Sixsmith was an auxiliary character in two stories so I formed an attachment to him. He watched the action, he didn’t participate. That’s how I felt while reading this book. Some books pull you in and make you part of the fight, and in others, you watch from afar like Sixsmith did. I felt like him.

David Mitchell Image via YouTube

David Mitchell
Image via YouTube

The cliffhanger from the first part of Luisa’s story had me reading on as fast as I could to get back to her story. If you haven’t gathered it yet, I cared more about what happened to her than anyone else. Sonmi is almost completely unrelatable so that left Luisa as the only speaking female character I could form an attachment with. I was curious about what would happen with her story if she were dead. When I got bored in Zachry’s story, knowing I was going back to Luisa kept me going.

I struggled to read Zachry’s story. The pidgin English Mitchell used to write it was really hard to read quickly. I kept wanting to say it out loud to understand it better. It’s by far the longest section and having it read so slowly was my biggest struggle in the work. I was so distracted by the language that I missed a lot of the plot and how Old Georgie and Sonmi connected to the plot and what Meronym was really after. I was wishing to get back to Sonmi even though I thought the beginning of her story was really boring.


My understanding is that the comet birthmark shows us the connected souls in the journey through time. A person can live multiple times in multiple places, forms, genders, and lifestyles and that person is very different from the one that came before or will follow. I’m not sure I believe this or see the connection. I would think that my soul defines my moral compass if nothing else and I don’t see much of a connection between Frobisher and Cavendish and Zachry. Some are must more upstanding and driven than others. I would have understood better if the characters had been more alike but I don’t feel like they were all one soul.

Writer’s Takeaway: The extremely different styles Mitchell used for his characters was incredible. Some authors are unable to obtain that different style of voice across novels let alone within one. I think it takes a lot of talent to write the way Mitchell did and a lot of planning to create the plot he did. It seemed like six books by six different authors spliced and glued together, just as Mitchell intended it to be. Bravo.

Reading it as I did made the book hard to enjoy and I thought there were very dull parts of the story. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
“Clout Atlas” by David Mitchell | Belper Book Chat
BOOK REVIEW: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell | Commas and Ampersands
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell | Some Ferrett Notes


8 Responses to “Book Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2/5)”

  1. Claire | Art and Soul January 7, 2016 at 12:06 PM #

    You finished! I feel like it’s the end if an era 🙂
    I didn’t get on with this book. I was left confused and wondering if I’d missed the point. Although, as you say, Mitchell’s skill is unquestionable. I just wasn’t captivated by any of the stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam January 7, 2016 at 12:13 PM #

      Glad I’m not the only one. I guess reading it straight through wouldn’t have helped too much. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. authorswilliams January 7, 2016 at 3:09 PM #

    GASP. I’ve heard such amazing things about this book


    • Sam January 7, 2016 at 5:13 PM #

      It’s very ambitious and i think he’s very talented, but I did not enjoy such a long journey. I hope I haven’t deterred you from it. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. authorswilliams January 7, 2016 at 3:14 PM #

    Your review is fabulous though. I’m intrigued by the sheer talent of this author, but yes, I agree that the story would probably be extremely confusing to me as well. It’s kind of a shame they didn’t connect in a more plausible way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. alilovesbooks January 7, 2016 at 5:33 PM #

    Well done for sticking with it to the end. I read it many years ago and remember finding some stories more interesting than the others (I suspect I skimmed over the ones I wasn’t interested in). It’s probably one of those books that’s a worthwhile read but not necessarily an enjoyable one.


    • Sam January 7, 2016 at 5:37 PM #

      I agree. One you’re glad you read but wouldn’t read again. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person


  1. WWW Wednesday, 10-March-2021 | Taking On a World of Words - March 10, 2021

    […] many stories that I’m having trouble keeping everything straight. I’m getting a lot of Cloud Atlas vibes from it so far, which isn’t really a good thing for me.Just to make this list longer, I […]


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