February 9, 2015

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Title: Cloud Atlas

Author: David Mitchell

Publisher: Random House

Date of Publication: 2004

Number of Pages: 509


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, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction as profund as it is playful. Now in his new novel, David Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity.

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.

As wild as a videogame, as mysterious as a Zen koan, Cloud Atlas is an unforgettable tour de force that, like its incomparable author, has transcended its cult classic status to become a worldwide phenomenon.


Cloud Atlas is a unique case of a novel. It's definitely a novel by David Mitchell, but the writing is even more thrilling, exploring a great range of genres. Traces of both Ghostwritten and number9dream are evident, that I clearly felt a witness of some kind of an evolution in ideas and structure. Both of those previous novels are based upon certain ideas and so is this one. Indeed, the main idea in Cloud Atlas is reincarnation.

The story begins in the 19th century, progresses through many decades we have lived, explores a future when the man is very technologically developed and ends in a post-apocalyptic distant future. In its own way, it's like a history of this world that David Mitchell has created. Most of the narrations end in despair, but there are also those who let hope crawl inside. Sonmi-451 is imprisoned and dies, but later in a the post-apocalyptic society she is worshipped like a god. 

All the characters of those six stories that consist Cloud Atlas are reincarnations of the same soul through time. The reincarnations are easily recognisable from the comet-shaped mark that they all share. The interesting fact is that the narrator of the sixth story doesn't have the mark and nothing really indicates that he shares anything with the rest of the characters, but his companion most probably is. 

It is also really interesting to discover how all those different characters interacted with each other through time and how their actions translated into a common language in order to travel from the one period to the other (in some cases centuries have gone by before the soul was reincarnated). But, no matter what the current character finds the action that reaches him is from his previous reincarnation. For example, Robert Frobisher, the composer from the second story, finds and becomes obsessed with the diary that Adam Ewing wrote on the ship the previous century, or when Luisa Rey, the young reporter from the third story discovers the correspondence between Frobisher and his friend and becomes so enthralled by him that she orders the Cloud Atlas Sextet, the only published work of the composer and so on. Every action each protagonist makes leaves a ripple in time and reaches the next one and in the end we have the echoes of all those ripples combined. I wouldn't be surprised if the author had the chaos theory in mind. 

The structure of Cloud Atlas, as I have already said, is unique. It includes six stories and the five of them are divided into two parts. This way a pyramid-shaped structure is formed where each story starts and then it continues in reverse order. For example, the first story continues last and so forth. The only story that ends without an interruption is the sixth one. Furthermore, each story is written in a different genre. This way we have diary entries, correspondence, interview, noir novel style, memoirs and folktale.

To sum things up, Cloud Atlas is a novel considered as a new classic. Personally, it's one of my all-time favourite books and I would reread it any time. I would recommend it to everyone. The stories are all intriguing, the writing is diverse and I believe that it will be very enjoyable and thought-provoking to all of you.

So my advice is...

A jewel for your bookshelf!



  1. A new classic indeed, beautiful story and a great film adaptation..

  2. The film was great too, although it was really easy to get lost between the stories.

  3. I have to say, I am a bigger fan of books than movies. However the rendition of the movie was beautiful. Great post!

    1. I couldn't agree more with you. The cases when a film is equally nice to the book are so rare!

  4. I've been wanting to read this!! I've heard amazing things about the movie, too, but I haven't watched it because I want to read the book first! Awesome review!

    Pearl @ AsteriskPearl's Book Blog

    1. Thank you for your positive comment! You should read the book first, because if you only watch the film in the end you will want to read it anyway!

  5. I completely missed the whole reincarnation thing. I noticed the birthmark, obviously, but somehow didn't see that angle of it at all. And I've even read The Bone Clocks! I definitely think there is an element of criticising the way humanity constantly strives for endless power and progress and how this affects society, but reincarnation is definitely a major theme as well, now that you pointed it out.

    Anyway, it's definitely one of my favourite books of all time. It's also one of the few books that I really didn't want to end. It was such an incredible journey and such a unique experience and I wish it could have continued (even though I'm sure that's what Mitchell was implying with Sloosha's Crossing, there are a tonne of parallels between it and the story of the Moriori in the Ewing part), at least it ended in style. That's my literary way of saying the ending was absolutely awesome. When I was in a bookshop yesterday with my friends I re-read that last paragraph and got chills. So amazing.

    1. I'm really glad that you liked it. It's a demanding book and a lot of people may find it slow and confusing, but the end is rewarding.

      The reincarnation was what made it for me so thrilling. Those people who were apart so many centuries were connected and each ones' actions reached the other. I couldn't imagine a better execution for this idea. The second time I read the book I loved it even more from the first one.

  6. Am just happy to bump into a fellow David Mitchell fan, and as you can see am stalking your blog haha! This is one of my favorites - followed closely by The Thousand Autumns....

    1. Thank you so much! I'm a bit embarrassed by these reviews - they were my first attempts in blogging, but I'm glad you are enjoying it.
      Cloud Atlas is my favourive David Mitchell novel (and probably my favourite book in general), even though Number9Dream follows pretty closely.


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