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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#1  Postby DATo » 20 Sep 2012, 03:11

One of my favorite posters, Gannon, recently mentioned the book Cloud Atlas in another thread. Gannon's post has prompted me to read the book again, having read it once before about a year ago. The book was written by David Mitchell, a British writer who tends to write books that require a bit of thought, but not so much as to make them inaccessible to the average reader.

Cloud Atlas is a novel comprised of six stories the first of which begins upon a sailing ship in 1848 and the last in a post-apocalyptic world many centuries in the future. There is a common thread which binds all of the stories and the protagonists of each story together. All of the stories are individualized not only by different settings and people but also by the writing style. The first story is a narration documented in a journal, the second is told through the letters of one character to another, the last by an old shepherd describing legends and myths based upon his knowledge of the time before 'The Fall' to people sitting around a campfire ect.

A few of the devices that were particularly interesting to me include the fact that the first chapter ends in the middle of a sentence. Also, the six stories are told in an historically linear fashion till we are in the distant future. This last story is the longest and takes place in the middle of the book; then, the time line reverses itself and we revisit each story again in reverse order till we are back at the beginning thus completing the issues that were left unresolved in the first halves of the stories. I admire the ambitiously courageous way the author treats this construction. In my opinion it works and this must be the majority opinion because the book is a "best seller".

In keeping with all of my recommendations I submit that this book may not be for everyone. The stories are very interesting if taken on their own merit but the author is also describing philosophical premises dealing with the ideas of continuum, determinism, intrinsic human nature and the threads of human experience which echo down the ages - how actions in the past may effect things in the far distant future.

A movie production of this book has been in the works since last year and will be debuting on October 26. The movie, which I am led to believe is a faithful representation of the book, received a ten minute standing ovation when it was presented to a select audience at the Toronto Film Festival.

I normally do not post "outside" links in these forum posts unless they specifically deal with the subject matter of my post so I mention in passing that the following trailer of the movie is being posted ONLY to give you a better sense (or feel) for the book because there is no way I can say in prose what this trailer can describe visually. As someone who has already read the book I feel that the trailer (link below) very accurately describes the scenes and the sensations I felt when reading the novel. Friends of mine who have also read the book agree with me on this point, so perhaps this video clip will whet your interest to read the book.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWnAqFyaQ5s

If you cannot make sense of the trailer is is because you are not supposed to. Each story builds upon the one preceding it. The trailer is meant NOT to give away the story but rather to introduce it.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#2  Postby Gannon » 05 Oct 2012, 02:35

Howdy DATo, I am glad that you posted this post here. IMHO "Cloud Atlas" is an amazing book. I told Fran that It is my third favourite book of all time.

I have read it a second time but this time I read each of the six novellas seperately. By this I mean that I would read the first one then skip to the last part of the book continuing the first novella. I did this for all of them and found parts that I had missed on first reading.

Did you notice that there is an underlying theme of slavery in the novel. In the first novella it is the Moriori subjugated by the Maori and eventually the "white" invaders. There are also references to the British abolishing slavery and the american slaves.
In "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish", which is my favourite novella, the old people are not slaves, but a second class of citizen with very few rights.
The most obvious references to a slave society come in the fifth novella " An Orison of Somni 451". In this future there is a whole slave class of workers who tend to all the "purebloods" needs.
Lastly in "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After", there is once again the main tribe being enslaved by the Kona.

I realised on this second reading that the book refers many times throughout the novel on slavery and class or caste systems. Is Mitchell showing us that nothing really changes throughout time and the world will always have slavery in some form?

On a completely different note, in "Letters from Zendelghem", what do you think Ayrs' dream of the Papa Song's cafe mean? His dream is completely correct. He dreams of the cafe exactly as it appears in the Somni novella. What is Mitchell telling us with this dream?

Also I cannot get past the birth mark. We find it on Robert Frobisher first in the second novella. Secondly it is found on Luisa Rey in the third novella and then on Somni in the fifth. There has to be some sort of message or meaning that Mitchell is trying to convey with these birthmarks but I can't work out what it is. I forget where, but reincarnation is mentioned in reference to the birthmarks, hmmmmm. ???

In the Somni novella, corporations and religion have basically merged into the one entity. The future seems to be run by enormous corporations with little reference to government. Is Mitchell hinting that we are heading this way with the power of the worlds large corporations growing with no slow down in sight. In the future will corporations with unlimited wealth wield the power?

Please help me with your thoughts DATo. :D
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#3  Postby DATo » 05 Oct 2012, 07:03

Hi Gannon,

I THOUGHT I'd see you here on this thread sooner or later *LOL* Yes, reading this book was an amazing experience and the trailer to the movie affected me much like a religious experience since I understood what the underlying themes were. I've never had a movie trailer affect me like that before.

I just finished reading it for a second time too and like you many new things popped out at me which I had missed before. For instance, what classic book does the character Luisa Rey suggest? The Bridge Of San Luis Rey which also dealt with the examination of several different lives and the theory of fate drawing all their past lives to the same place on the bridge before it collapsed.

You are absolutely correct about the slavery issue. Personally I think the Timothy Cavendish vignette was also meant to describe a form of slavery since Timothy was being constrained against his will. I think the larger theme Mitchell was working on was human nature and the ongoing desire of one group of people (the stronger) to always dominate another (the weaker) throughout the ages. As William Golding said regarding the evil side of human nature in The Lord Of The Flies: "I'm close. I'm part of you. I'm the reason it's no go." A similar theme can be found in Conrad's Heart Of Darkness and the movie Apocalypse Now (which was based on the Conrad book).

But the opposite is true as well. Did you notice that everyone who helped another person had their kindness returned to them? Ewing helps Autua and later Autua saves his life; the people in the Timothy Cavendish vignette do not dump Mr. Meeks from the car and Mr. Meeks is ultimately the source of their salvation. Much like the reoccurring motif of slavery there were many other things like this which cropped up again and again as the stories progressed even in individual words like "Hydra" - it appears in several different stories and in different contexts. Yes, to answer one of your questions, I think Mitchell is saying that human nature does not change much and that the propensity for the enslavement of others will always be there. Even in less significant ways we witness it every day by high school cliques picking on outsiders; fraternities (hazing); corporations (climbing the corporate ladder); and probably most notably, and obviously in racism toward other races.

I think Ayrs dream is a little hard to nail down. It may just be Mitchell's way of reinforcing the idea that "Everything Is Connected". Ayrs serves in this role as a prophet. Another example of this, in keeping with my mention above of reoccurring motifs, is the prophecy foretold by Zachary's dream. That's what I mean - Mitchell keeps using the same events in different stories and in different ways and meanings. Even if you don't key on it somehow this device enters your consciousness and the reader is subtly aware of this continuous rebirth, as it were, of characters and events. It is what he means by CLOUD ATLAS I think. A cloud rains down water, the rain forms streams and pools, the pools evaporate and become clouds again and the process repeats over and over ... as human events repeat, over and over.

I think the birthmark is simply a symbol of the same TYPE of person (the protagonist) who is either enslaved or persecuted. The idea of a comet may be to give the impression of something cosmic which is irresistible because as I recall everyone who bore the birthmark ultimately succeeded in the end. Despite what may have happened to them, their ultimate goals were realized.

I think Mitchell is INDEED suggesting that we are heading in the direction of a world-wide, corporate, oligarchical system whose prime imperative is the unscrupulous acquisition of wealth and power ... and it is hard to look around us in this real world and find a valid argument to what may prove to be Mitchell's prophetic thesis.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#4  Postby Fran » 05 Oct 2012, 14:35

I'm desperately trying not to read your posts guys .... I'm more than half way through so hopefully by the end of the weekend I'll be free to read your opinions & contribute my own.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#5  Postby Gannon » 05 Oct 2012, 18:37

Howdy DATo thanks for your brilliant post, it opened my eyes to a number of points that I had missed. Ok try this one on for size.

After the second reading, and thinking about it, I am convinced that Luisa Rey, Sonmi and Meronym are the same character reincarnated.

Firstly this would explain the birthmark that they all have.
Secondly, at the end of "Sloosha's Crossin' An Ev'rythin' After", Zachry's son tells us that his father thought that Meronym was Sonmi reincarnated.
Lastly, and this point is the one that really convinced me. When Hae-Joo, Xi-Li and Sonmi are running from the Unanimity goons and their car swerves off the road and drops down an embankment, Sonmi recalls Luisa's memory of being forced off the bridge and the drop to the water below. The passage reads,

" I remember the drop: it shook free an earlier memory of blackness, inertia, gravity, of being trapped in another ford; I could not find its source in my own memories."

This is obviously Luisa Rey's memory.
I also seem to remember reincarnation being mentioned and alluded to sporadically throughout the novel.

What are your thoughts? :D
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#6  Postby DATo » 05 Oct 2012, 20:36

Gannon wrote:Howdy DATo thanks for your brilliant post, it opened my eyes to a number of points that I had missed. Ok try this one on for size.

After the second reading, and thinking about it, I am convinced that Luisa Rey, Sonmi and Meronym are the same character reincarnated.

Firstly this would explain the birthmark that they all have.
Secondly, at the end of "Sloosha's Crossin' An Ev'rythin' After", Zachry's son tells us that his father thought that Meronym was Sonmi reincarnated.
Lastly, and this point is the one that really convinced me. When Hae-Joo, Xi-Li and Sonmi are running from the Unanimity goons and their car swerves off the road and drops down an embankment, Sonmi recalls Luisa's memory of being forced off the bridge and the drop to the water below. The passage reads,

" I remember the drop: it shook free an earlier memory of blackness, inertia, gravity, of being trapped in another ford; I could not find its source in my own memories."

This is obviously Luisa Rey's memory.
I also seem to remember reincarnation being mentioned and alluded to sporadically throughout the novel.

What are your thoughts? :D


*Throws a blankie over his post so Fran won't see it *LOL**

Gannon,

Luisa Rey, Meronym and Somni 451 all have the birthmark, but so do Adam Ewing and Frobisher but I think your theory of them being reincarnations of each other may be true. I think the only one who did not have it was Timothy Cavendish ... or did he? Mitchell in fact says that reincarnation was definitely one of the themes of this book so your opinion is validated by the book's most unimpeachable source, the author. A+ for Gannon !!!

Very nice catch on Somni's recollection of the memory of another fall into the water too. Once again, a reoccurring motif ... FALLING. Ewing falls into a pit, Rey falls into the ocean, Frobisher falls from the hotel window when he skips out without paying his bill, and if memory serves, didn't Timothy fall while being mugged by the middle-school girls? One thing I noticed is that the same thing, like the comet birthmark, or falling, does not take place with every character ... just the majority of them.

Can't wait to see the movie but I am told that unlike the book the stories will parallel each other rather than work to a midpoint and then reverse direction.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#7  Postby Fran » 10 Oct 2012, 17:22

Finally got it finished ... no reflection on the book just a few family issues curtailed my usual reading time this week.

What an extraordinary book(s) can't wait to see how the movie will interpret it. Reading your posts guys I can see why you both re-read it & I'll certainly be doing likewise ... I feel there is so much I may have missed.

I agree with everything you both have written, definitely there are the themes of slavery and corporate power, oppression. Wonder did either of you think there was a correlation between the Slaughtership in An Orison of Sonmi and Aurora House in The Gastly Ordeal, both systems of disposal of individuals no longer considered productive? Also, the consumption of Soap in Orisson & the tobacco church of The Pacific Journal ... I thought the idea of the natives feeling no incentive to work until they were made dependant on tobacco very insightful.
I must admit I found Sloosha's Crossing extremly difficult reading & again and again I had to re-read paragraphs to try to figure what on earth he was on about but I acknowledge the skill involved in the writing style.
Initially I did think there was a definite suggestion of reincarnation but as I read further it seem to me more like an idea of time where past, present and future are all parallel rather than sequential.
Well done guys, another 5* recommendation.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#8  Postby DATo » 10 Oct 2012, 18:57

Fran,

I have been on pins and needles since you mentioned you were reading this book. I (((SO))) did not want it to bomb in your eyes. I am elated that you enjoyed it !!!

There is so much one could discuss with regard to this book but to summarize my thoughts as succinctly as I can I will just say that I consider Mitchell not only a gifted author but a genius. There are so many custom touches to this book that it is hard to know where to begin when attempting to discuss it. I am currently reading another of his books and it is so unlike Cloud Atlas that one would never believe it was written by the same author. When an author can shift gears like that you know he or she is truly gifted.

Just a few of the many things I noticed:

(1) How about the fact that in the Sonmi story cars are referred to as fords (improper noun); coffee as starbuck; ect ect ... it suggests that even the vocabulary was altered over time in the corporate image deferring all classes of cars as "fords" and all coffee as "starbucks" .... and I'm sure you noticed that movies were "disneys".

(2) From Hamlet's third soliloquy : "Soft you now the fair Ophelia. Nymph, in thy ORISONS be all my sins remembered." Could that be interpreted as the collective conscience of humanity itself speaking to Somni-451? A confession of the cumulative sins of humanity and a request for prayer (forgiveness). I cannot believe that Mitchell intended any other interpretation. The word Orison is widely known, but to the vast majority of people it is known only in the context of the "to be or not to be" Hamlet soliloquy which ends with the line quoted above.

(3) In an earlier post to Gannon I mentioned the connection between Luisa Rey's name and the book by Thornton Wilder - The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. Wilder's novel centered on a priest (as I recall) attempting to find a common thread which connected the fates of all the people who died when the bridge collapsed .... I had forgotten ... Luisa Rey fell from a bridge too. So the analogy becomes even more pronounced with this consideration.

(4) As mentioned in a post above the word HYDRA is used several times in the novel. I'm a bit dim on my classical Greek mythology, but wasn't the Hydra the evil guardian of the fleece that Jason had to overcome? The Hydra was depicted as a woman with snakes for hair as I recall and if you looked at her you would be turned to stone. Also, wasn't there something to the Hydra myth that said if you cut off the heads of the snakes even more would grow? Could Hydra be Mitchell's symbol for the evil side of man's nature and the more you try to subdue it the worse it becomes?

There are many many things like this interspersed throughout the novel and I'm sure I will require even more time - dedicated quality time - to find them all.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#9  Postby Fran » 11 Oct 2012, 14:53

@DATo
OMG Can't believe I missed that Hamlet reference & it my favourite Shakespeare! :oops: But I did note a lot of references that have religous overtones, the server's schedule & the monastic 4:30 rising, vespers and even the "pray our honorable diners to debit their Souls" and of course, repetition of the Papa Song mantra.

I did pick up on the fordpark and the disney and the sony and the starbuck, definitely does suggest a corporate take over of the vernacular. The Bridge Of San Luis Rey is a new one to me ... should I add it to the TBR do you think?

Can't agree with you on the Hydra though ... as I remember it the Hydra was many headed beast and protected the entrance to the Underworld. I think it was Medusa who had the snakes for hair & turned men to stone ... awful woman!

Going to have to re-read with a pencil & notebook to hand :lol:
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#10  Postby DATo » 11 Oct 2012, 17:56

Fran wrote:@DATo
OMG Can't believe I missed that Hamlet reference & it my favourite Shakespeare! :oops: But I did note a lot of references that have religous overtones, the server's schedule & the monastic 4:30 rising, vespers and even the "pray our honorable diners to debit their Souls" and of course, repetition of the Papa Song mantra.

I did pick up on the fordpark and the disney and the sony and the starbuck, definitely does suggest a corporate take over of the vernacular. The Bridge Of San Luis Rey is a new one to me ... should I add it to the TBR do you think?

Can't agree with you on the Hydra though ... as I remember it the Hydra was many headed beast and protected the entrance to the Underworld. I think it was Medusa who had the snakes for hair & turned men to stone ... awful woman!

Going to have to re-read with a pencil & notebook to hand :lol:


Fran,

You are 100% correct. I totally dropped the ball with my Hydra call. It was indeed Medusa I was thinking of. I also agree with you on the religious implications found throughout the book, and as you noted there were many of them. The most recognizable was, of course, the mission which was established on the island in the Adam Ewing section. By the time we get to Somni's story religion, politics and the corporate world have become indistinguishable, and in the last story Somni herself is thought of as a goddess. In fact, if you think about Somni's story and Jessus' story I'm sure you will see some startlingly obvious similarities. (betrayed, martyred, sacrifices herself for the redemption of other fabricants, becomes a god to future generations ect).

I'm sorry you had difficulty with the "Zachary Speak" vocabulary. Believe it or not I had no difficulty with it and was able to make sense of it (most of it anyway) on the fly as I was reading. I actually enjoyed this technique very much. I really enjoy reading dialect. John Kennedy Toole used a lot of this in A Confederacy Of Dunces and I think that's one of the reasons I liked that book so much. I feel I can almost hear the person speaking it. I absolutely LOVED Mr. Meeks' Scottish dialect in the Timothy Cavendish vignette, when he finally says more than "I know, I know."

Once again, I am so glad that you liked the book.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#11  Postby MysFan » 19 Oct 2012, 17:14

DATo wrote:In keeping with all of my recommendations I submit that this book may not be for everyone. The stories are very interesting if taken on their own merit but the author is also describing philosophical premises dealing with the ideas of continuum, determinism, intrinsic human nature and the threads of human experience which echo down the ages - how actions in the past may effect things in the far distant future.

A movie production of this book has been in the works since last year and will be debuting on October 26. The movie, which I am led to believe is a faithful representation of the book, received a ten minute standing ovation when it was presented to a select audience at the Toronto Film Festival.


Sounds very deep DATo, but your recommendations have always been solid so I will give it a try. It will be interesting to see how they translate such a complex work into film. Thanks for the trailer.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#12  Postby Victoria » 19 Oct 2012, 17:56

I have just looked at the movie trailer that was recommended and wept. With that reaction somehow I don't think it will be safe for me to watch this movie in a theatre.

What a brilliant and imaginative author. It was his inventive use of language which first endeared me to this book. At times I kept wanting to read it out loud which was a bit embarrassing when sitting in a cafe with a coffee.Then gradually I began to understand the themes of the book. So I have appreciated the clearly expressed summaries in this thread.

Now it's back to the beginning and a second reading. And then what should an ancient read next ? Would I be disappointed by another David Mitchell or having been enchanted by Cloud Atlas can you recommend my next "big read"

And please do tell whether or not the movie diminishes the reading experience. It doesn't come to Australia until next February.

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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#13  Postby DATo » 19 Oct 2012, 23:04

MysFan,

My understanding is that the movie does, in fact, render the complex architecture of the novel in an acceptable way. As mentioned above the only difference is that the stories parallel each other rather than move linearly from past to distant future and then back in descending order to past. Both the directors and the author felt that to present the movie in the same manner as the book would have excessively taxed the patience of those not familiar with the book. Glad you liked the trailer.

Victoria,

Do you see that fellow to the left of this post with the macho beard ? well, he was moved to tears by the trailer as well. I think those of us who have read the book were far more affected by that trailer than those who had not read it, perhaps because we could identify with the scenes we were watching and knew the outcomes of the various stories as well as the messages contained within them.

I have just finished another of Mitchell's books entitled, Black Swan Green which was also very well written but is vastly different than Cloud Atlas. It is a bildungsroman concerning one year in the life of a 13 year old boy. I feel confident in recommending it to you because I think you like Mitchell's writing ability and he is once more at the top of his form with this book.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#14  Postby Victoria » 20 Oct 2012, 17:50

Thanks DADo. I've put Black Green Swan on the top of my list.
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Re: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Post Number:#15  Postby Geneen Karstens » 28 Oct 2012, 08:23

In Black Swan Green, Jason meets with a woman and discusses music and philosophy..wasn't her name Crommelynek?
I also thought that a couple of characters were reincarnations. I had a hard time reading it, but was determined to finish it because it was so different. It definitely shows that so many of the atrocities committed by humans these days are certainly not new...they've been going on since time began and surely will continue. It was a fantastic book and the different writing styles were interesting. I especially like the story of Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After, although it was the hardest section to read, at least for me.
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