Cloud Atlas is one of the most divided reads there is, I think – a real Marmite book, in that people either seem to love it or loathe it. I was given this copy by one of my aunts, who read it but didn’t really know what was going on throughout. It was a choice made by a member of the book club which I belonged to until December, who did not realise how long the novel was. Only one person, my aforementioned aunt, finished it, and many did not even make it past the first few pages. I could happily have never picked it up by way of their lack of enthusiasm, but I was urged to read this by one of my friends in America, who really loved it.
Cloud Atlas is formed of six different novellas, which end in the first half of the book and continue in the second. The stories which Mitchell presents throughout are ‘The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing’, ‘Letters from Zedelghem’, ‘Half-Lives – The First Luisa del Ray Mystery’, ‘The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’, ‘An Orison of Sonmi – 451’ and ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After’. The narrative arc used throughout is interesting. The first story in the book is the last to end, the second is the penultimate, and so on.
Mitchell has used many different narrative styles throughout. ‘The Pacific Journal…’ is unsurprisingly told in a diary format and ‘Letters from Zedelghem’ in an epistolatory manner. ‘Half Lives…’ is made up of tiny chapters which deal with the investigation of a suicide, ‘The Ghastly Ordeal…’ uses a first person perspective, ‘An Orison…’ is shown presented in an interview-type style, and ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’…’ is told in rather irritating dialect.
Mitchell is clearly a diverse writer if he is able to employ such different narrative techniques on such a large scale, but it felt, to me, rather overambitious. It is not a book which personally appeals to me, and I cannot see how such a structure would work within its film counterpart. I did not have the patience to finish this book, and I therefore join the aforementioned group which did not enjoy Cloud Atlas much at all.