Cloud Atlas: Final Post
by David Mitchell
What a ride! This was not an easy book to read, but for me it was well worth the effort. Mitchell’s amazing skills as a writer allowed him to take on half a dozen different characters, locations, time periods and still link them all together in a cohesive way. It was enough to leave me reeling.
As we learned in the first half, the book is split into six very different sections. The first five sections stop abruptly in the middle, each one stair-stepping into the next. Then the sixth section, Sloosha, offers a complete story and we work our way back through the five sections in the opposite order, ending where we started with Adam Ewing.
The complicated web of interlocking tales leads us on a wild journey through time and across continents. Here’s a brief breakdown of the sections.
Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After
(an old story being told)
Told from the point-of-view of Zachry, who is part of a primitive culture on Hawaii, Sloosha’s section had a difficult to read dialect. Zachry tells of their culture, which worships the god Sonmi. He also mentions Adam multiple times and he meets Meronym, the last of her race.
“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Somni the east an’ the west a’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.”
An Orison of Sonmi~451
(seen as a hologram interview by Zachry)
I found Sonmi’s section to be especially interesting. When we left her, she was on the run and she was learning the truth behind what really happens to fabricants after they “retire.” She witnesses the killing of a fabricant living doll, which underlines the cavalier attitude the purebloods have towards fabricants. We learn more about fabricants in this section, including the fact that they are created to die within 48 hrs if they haven’t had any soap (their food).
Everyone is told that fabricants get to go off into a happy retirement village after they serve 12 years of slave labor. But, as Sonmi finds out, they are actually murdered and recycled as the “soap” food that is fed to fabricants and also as pureblood food. It’s all very “Soylent Green.” This realization elicits the first real response from the archivist who has been interviewing Sonmi. At this point, she does more than ask questions of Sonmi, she shows some shock and outrage at the accusation. She bursts out, “No crime of such magnitude could take root in Nea So Copros,” which shows us just how shocking the accusation is.
*Also, in this section someone is described as “quasi-Falstaffian” which cracked me up.
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
(watched as a movie by Sonmi)
At the end of his first section, Cavendish has been checked into a retirement home with no way of escaping. A nurse straight out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is in charge and she has no intention of letting him out of her grasp. Then Timothy and a few other patients at the nursing home devise a plan and in one wild sitcom-style car ride they crash through the gates and flee. They all start new lives outside of the home.
This section was hilarious! It had, by far, the best one-liners in the book. There’s a bit where Timothy is reading the story of Luisa Rey (which he, a publisher, has received as a manuscript) and mocks it, saying it’s “hippie-druggy-new age.” I loved this cheeky joking because Mitchell is teasing us within his own book about his plots. He points out flaws and holes in the story while we are still reading it!
“A Scot can turn a perfectly decent name into a head-butt.”
“A Titus Andronicus catalogue of threats beat at the door.”
“Ruddy hell, when your parents die they move in with you.”
“Middle age is flown, but it is attitude, not years, that condemns one to the ranks of the Undead, or else proffers salvation.”
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
(read as a manuscript by Timothy)
Luisa survived the car crash that ended the first section, but she’s nowhere near being out of danger. She gets fired from her job, which just lets her know she’s closer than ever to uncovering something big. Then, she once again narrowly escapes death when assassin Bill Smoke rigs a bank safety deposit box with explosives.
While on the run, Joe Napier saves Luisa’s life to repay a debt to her father who saved his life years earlier. She is also saved by a woman working in a sweatshop who says something to her in Spanish (anyone know what she said?) So Luisa makes it out of the whole thing alive.
Side note: Sixsmith’s boat is moored in a dock that also has the preserved and restored Phophetess schooner, which Adam Ewing travels on! Each time I made one of these connections, and there are dozens, I got a little thrill. Also, Sixsmith’s daughter, Megan, lives in Hawaii, but I’m not sure any reference is made to that in any other sections.
“Courage grows anywhere, like weeds.”
Letters From Zedelghem
(letters to Sixsmith read by Luisa Rey)
Robert Frobisher’s time in Belgium is complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the woman he’s having an affair with (while helping her syphilitic husband work on his compositions). It has a distinct “Graduate set in the 1930s” feel to it. He gets his heartbroken and decides to kill himself after finishing his masterpiece.
Frobisher big contribution to the overall plot is the Cloud Atlas Sextet he composes, which mirrors the structure of the novel. The musical piece has six separate solos that are arranged just like the stories within Cloud Atlas.
“Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, now I’m a spent firework; but at least I’ve been a firework.”
“Anticipating the end of the world is humanity’s oldest pastime.”
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
(a journal read by Frobisher)
After a lot of pontificating about the local life on the island the ship has stopped at Adam finally realizes Dr. Henry Goose has been slowly poisoning him to death. Goose is attempting to steal the money and belongings (estate papers) Ewing keeps locked in his trunk. He convinces Adam that he’s got a worm in his brain, so he’ll continue to take the “medicine” he gives him. Autua, the stowaway that Adam saved in the first section, stands by him even after Goose casts him aside, and rescues him from the poisons and takes him ashore.
END OF RECAP
I believe this is their version of Sonmi and Luisa Rey)
Since posting on the first half, I’ve heard that Mitchell confirmed the fact that each of the main characters who share the comet birthmark, are reincarnated souls. He didn’t explore that element as much as I thought he would in the second half, but it was still interesting.
One continuous theme throughout the book seems to be the way society treats those they have power over. In Sonmi’s section it’s the fabricants, in Timothy’s it’s the elderly, in Luisa Rey’s it’s less obvious, but we still see how those who have the power of information treat those without it. As Dr. Goose said “The weak are meat the strong do eat.”
The fascinating thing about this book it that it takes that concept and tosses it on its head. Each time a person, organization, government, etc. take advantage or another person or group, one seemingly insignificant individual manages to stand up against them. Sonmi-451 fought back, Luisa Rey stood up for what was right, even though she knew she might die doing so, Autua protected Adam Ewing and saved his life, etc.
The very end of the book redeemed some of the tough sections for me. Adam sums it all up when he has an epiphany and talks about how selfish may be ugly in a person, but in an entire society, it will destroy everything. We are left with the understanding that each new section in the book was another glimpse of the way our selfish society and creating its own destruction. By the time we got to Sonmi’s section it was the most obvious, because the society had failed to even appreciate other living beings anymore. The next inevitable step was “the fall” in which the world was destroyed.
I will say that I wish the book didn’t begin and end with Adam Ewing’s section. I think it’s an awful deterrent to anyone trying to start the book and it makes for an underwhelming finish. That being said, I think the effort is worth it. It’s not that each of the stories is so amazingly good, it’s that the structure and the writing are unlike anything else I’ve experienced and having to work so hard definitely made me appreciate it more.
I’ll leave you with a few bits from the beautiful passage that wrapped up the end of the book…
“Belief is both a prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail…. One fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself… In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.”
So what did you all think was it worth it?
What was your favorite section?
Do you think Mitchell intended us to think of each story as fictional, just part of another story (i.e. Luisa Rey was just a manuscript Timothy reads and Timothy was just a movie Sonmi sees, etc.) or was each one real?
What major points/connections did I miss?
Thank you all for joining in on this readalong and a big thanks to Care for hosting it with me. I had so much fun!
Leave the links to your posts in the comments and I’ll add them all in!
Images of Cloud Atlas movie from here and here.