If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the rices of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. -From Cloud Atlas, page 508-
David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas, is at once brilliant, far reaching in scope and immensely creative. I read this book like an addict – hanging on the words, seeking the answers, caught up in the worlds Mitchell flawlessly creates. I feel like I could re-read this book several times and continue to find new meanings each time. David Mitchell is a newly discovered author for me – and I am in awe of his talent. I will most certainly be reading his other two novels – Ghostwritten AND Number9Dream – in the very near future.
Cloud Atlas appears to be six seemingly disparate stories, but they are woven together and connected as the novel progresses. Tucked into the stories, Mitchell alludes to the novel’s structure at least twice.
Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year’s fragments into a “sextet for overlapping soloist”: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. -From Cloud Atlas, page 445-
One model of time: an infinite matroyoshka doll of painted moments, each “shell” (the present) encased inside a nest of “shells” (previous presents) I call the actual past but which we perceive as the virtual past. The doll of “now” likewise encases a nest of presents yet to be, which I call the actual future but which we perceive as the virtual future. -From Cloud Atlas, page 393-
Confused? Don’t be. Mitchell brings it all together in an incredible symphony of writing brilliance. Not only does he create memorable characters, he weaves his words like a painter – fabricating beautiful descriptions of setting.
The tropic sun fattens & fills the noon sky. The men work seminaked with sun-blacked torsos & straw hats. The planking oozes scorching tar that sticks to one’s soles. Rain squalls blow up from nowhere & vanish with the same rapidity & the deck hisses itself dry in a minute. Portuguese man-o’-wars pulsate in the quick-silver sea, flying fish bewitch the beholder & ocher shadows of hammerheads circle the Prophetess. -From Cloud Atlas, page 37-
I was excited to see Eva van Outryvede Crommelynck (a wonderful character from Mitchell’s latest novel, Black Swan Green make an appearance in this one as a young girl. It gives me some cautious hope that in a future novel we might seen the dynamic and lovable Jason Taylor again!
A common theme in Cloud Atlas is that of power as a destructive force. Mitchell writes:
What drives some to accrue power where the majority of their compatriots lose, mishandle, or eschew power? Is it addiction? Wealth? Survival? Natural selection? I propose these are all pretexts and results, not the root cause. The only answer can be ‘There is no “Why.” This is our nature.’ ‘Who’ and ‘What’ run deeper than ‘Why.-page 129-
The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. -page 444-
Ultimately, Mitchell evokes a world where all humans are connected – like souls which ‘cross ages like clouds cross skies.‘ This is truly a beautifully written novel which will stay with the reader long after the final page has been turned.