Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell; or: I’m not impressed


2,5 Stars out of 5

I have absolutely no idea how to review this book. Even a week and a half later I don’t really know what to tell you.

I could tell you that I think three sixth of this book were even more boring than watching grass grow, but that wouldn’t explain WHY I think that, would it? And since I always try to explain my reasons for liking or – in this case – not liking a book (not really), that just wouldn’t do. So…

Bear with me here. I’ll try to do my best, okay?

First of all: WTF did I just read?

That was my initial reaction after having finished Cloud Atlas.

And it wasn’t the kind of whoa-I-can’t-believe-it-what-an-eye-opener-WTF, either.

After all the hype, and after all I’ve heard about this book, I can honestly say: I’m not impressed.

No, really.

“Everything is connected.” Everything is connected, my a… behind.

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.” That’s actually what it says on the tin, respectively the back of the book. So, of course, I went into it, expecting events that start in one period of time and cause other events to happen in another one. I expected soul-travelling, people meeting and meeting again in a different time, recognizing each other’s souls by looking in each other’s eyes, a turn of a phrase, a particular mannerism or whatever else, unlocking memories and allowing the characters to work together or antagonize each other to prevent certain events, that had been set in motion ages ago, from happening. Or make them happen.

Something like that, in any case.

If you’re like me, you’re in for a whole world of disappointment.

The only “connection” that’s happening here is that each storyline is somehow mentioned in the following story, but only in passing and without any impact on the occurring events.

Oh, yes! And there’s the repeated mentioning of a birthmark in the shape of a comet – which bears absolutely no consequence at all. At least not any I could see. At first I thought it was the sign of the “hero” in each of the stories, but that wasn’t it. But maybe I’m just too stupid to recognize a pattern.


There was the first storyline named “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”, which was nice to read. Not that there was really anything happening, but it had a pleasant Treasure-Island-y feeling to it (only without the pirates). Still, it was a bit on the dull side. And, of course, it ends not only in the middle of the story but also in the middle of a sentence, because apparently the author thought this a good way to write a book.

The next storyline is called “Letters from Zedelghem”. This storyline is so incredibly boring, I nearly gave up. Plus, while story 1 had some really likable (though even more unlikable) characters, story 2 only consisted of mean, selfish, stupid and despicable characters, I really didn’t want to know more about. Also: nothing happens. And it ends – again – in the middle of the story.

To cut a long story short: ALL of the first five storylines are only half-told and end in the middle of various events. This book is constructed like this:

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Part 1)
Letters from Zedelghem (Part 1)
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Part 1)
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Part 1)
An Orison of Sonmi~451 (Part 1)
Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After (Complete)
An Orison of Sonmi~451 (Part 2)
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Part 2)
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Part 2)
Letters from Zedelghem (Part 2)
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Part 2)

Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Story no. 3, “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery”, gave me hope again, and simultaneously made me wonder how and author can write so thrilling and so boring at the same time. “Half-Lives” is a really exciting read. A kind of fast-paced murder-conspiracy-economy-thriller with great characters and lots of things happening. Yes! Finally! Things are happening! I absolutely enjoyed reading about Luisa Rey and her fight with a nuclear power plant corporation.

Only to be BORED OUT OF MY SKULL by story no. 4, “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish”. I have to admit that here, too, things were happening, and it has a nice twist at the end, that I hadn’t seen coming, but that couldn’t distract me from the – again – very unlikable characters.

I can only repeat myself, but I find it very, very hard to read a story written in first-person-narrator, when I completely dislike said narrator. Plus, I lose interest. So, yeah…

“An Orison of Sonmi~451” was a very good story again. Even though I’m not that much into Science Fiction, it was absolutely captivating to read about this foreign culture and way of living that originated in… Korea, I think. And maybe not even that far in our future.

But, of course, it couldn’t last.

“Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”. The sixth storyline. The first story that is actually completely told without ending in the middle of things.

For some reason I assumed, this would be a kind of “turning point”, or some such. The chapter where all of the storylines come together, or at least a LITTLE, so we might get a hint of what this is all about.

No such luck.

It’s about a man from the future, who lives on an island, I think, maybe former Hawaii? I think it is mentioned somewhere.

Why I’m not sure?

Because I didn’t understand that much.

I mean, yeah, write a whole story in an abominable variation of the English language, which is an effing drag to read, why don’t you? Thank you so much! I am aware that languages are changing over time, but usually WE change WITH them! We’re not thrown about 500 years into the future and supposed to understand an idiom where today’s grammar is – apparently – completely out of fashion, punctuation likewise, and letters at the end of a word, or even in between, are actually more of a suggestion than an obligation.

I can understand that one would want to illustrate the change to mankind, but really, there HAD to be other ways. Better ways. “An Orison of Sonmi~451” was also pretty evolved, but they talked just like we do today.

Utterly frustrating, that.

I only read on, because I waited for the eye-opener, the wow factor, the point where I would go, “Oh! That’s how everything worked out! Oh, that’s clever!”, but it never happened. The events DON’T cause each other, the people don’t recognize each other as “familiar souls” or something, and while I really admire the construction of this book, I can’t help but ask: why?

Why choose such an elaborate way of storytelling, only not to actually TELL anything? This book could have been written with the six short stories in sequence, and it would’ve worked just as well.

Basically it’s a book about the suppression and/or annihilation of whole civilisations by the rich and powerful (and white), who will always try and rise themselves above the poorer and uneducated, and try to form a “master race”. And if you dare to revolt, sometimes it’s crowned with success, sometimes it costs you your life. One man/woman CAN achieve changes, but sometimes they can’t. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same.

As long as money and power mean more than honesty, hard work and kindness, everything will always stay the same.

And you needed SIX different stories to tell me that?

Well, hard cheese! I knew that already!

“Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery” and “An Orison of Sonmi~451” were a joy to read, but otherwise? No. Sorry. This book couldn’t really impress me. Like I said at the beginning.

2,5 stars out of 5 – rounded up to 3 as per usual.

And maybe I’m mistaken, but…

On page 166 of my version of Cloud Atlas (ISBN: 978-0-340-82278-4) it says:

“The room was lit electric marigold, and in waltzed – backwards, luckily for me – a little witch with red corkscrew curls. ‘Mummy!’ I half heard, half lipread through the glass.”

When that little girl is waltzing in backwards (luckily for him), how can he half lipread? If he can’t see her face, he can’t lipread (neither full nor half). And if she couldn’t see him, coming in FORWARDS, the whole “luckily-for-him” thing makes no sense at all. Do I have an error in my reasoning? (Serious question, btw. Maybe I got it wrong.)


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