I don’t generally gush about books. I love the idea of books. I really like some of them. Others are nice, probably won’t read them again. But this one makes my Top 5 all-time list, if such a thing were written in stone.
Mitchell takes six stories written about six different periods in history, narrated by six different voices, in six completely different literary styles, and makes one magnificent symphony of a novel. It’s ok to use that metaphor because he does. In fact, at one point in the narrative, the composer Robert Frobisher asks his friend Rufus Sixsmith in a letter if his own Cloud Atlas Sextet, described as “a sextet for overlapping soloists,” is Revolutionary or Gimmicky. But really Mitchell is asking the reader. And my answer is Both.
I’ve seen the movie twice and will watch it again tomorrow. It’s very good. But Mitchell’s novel is better.
It’s better because it boils all the ills of society and corprocracy into a few gems of narrative that each of the focal characters share with people close enough to listen. And so no matter if you’re a notary sailing on a schooner from Australia to California in 1849, an unknown bi-sexual composer in 1931, a libbed female journalist in 1975, an imprisoned senior citizen trying to get back to your publisher’s world in 2004, a surprisingly self-actuated fabricant fast food server 100 years in the future, or a simple goatherd trying to protect his family from marauders in the deep future after the Fall of Civilization; the truth about life and death and happiness and sadness and power and will are the same. Find your place. Love your life. Respect everyone you can. And always know that what you do makes an impact.
If you haven’t read this book, do it.
I’m still reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. It’s a long book and I’m savoring it rather than gobbling. You don’t gobble Almond Roca.
I just finished the story of “Sloosh’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After,” which is set in the very distant future after the Fall of what we refer to as civilization. The time and effort that must have gone into writing that story is mind boggling. Being mindful of all the style changes, how he uniformly misspells everything and uses apostrophes like Van Gogh used brush strokes, makes me wonder how long it took Mitchell to write this story.
One thing that has surprised me is that the movie and the book are very different. The age of Zachry, his destination at the end of the story, the fate of his family, even his relationships are very different from the book to the movie. The way that Sonmi-451 exits the restaurant, and the reason for Yoona-939’s death are also different from book to movie.
As I read this book, I can’t help but wonder if Mitchell wrote six great stories, realized none of them was long enough to make into a novel, and so he linked them with a comet-shaped birthmark and connected each story’s documentation as historical of the others. For example, the first story is told as “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” which is read by composer Robert Frobisher in the second story. Frobisher’s letters to scientist Rufus Sixsmith are read by journalist Luisa Rey in the third story, who befriends Sixsmith late in his life. Rey writes a memoir that is read by publisher Timothy Cavendish in the fourth story. Cavendish writes the story of his adventures, and the film of that story is watched by server-turned-prophet Sonmi-451 in the fifth story. Sonmi-451’s final testimony (her orison) is viewed by Prescient Meronym and Valleysman Zachry in the six story, where the Valleys People believe in re-incarnation.
Or did Mitchell intend to write the book this way?
Maybe one day I’ll get to ask him.
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What I like most about this book is that Ms. Barbour sounds like a real person instead of a text book writer. Yet what she’s written here is a great how-to book on freelance editing. Anyone thinking about getting into this line of work ought to read this book before getting too far into this business. She keeps the process of getting started very well organized. She tells the reader what she is going to say, says it, and then reminds the reader of what she said. The book is easy to read and well supported, too. She surprised me on a couple of occasions with advice I hadn’t thought of.