I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’m a watch-every-episode-three times-and-stop-being-friends-with-you-’til-you’ve-seen it fan of The Hour. When I found out that there wasn’t going to be a 3rd season I cried over a jar of quickly diminishing Nutella. This may seem irrelevant until you realise that the recent Cloud Atlas movie stars Ben Whishaw (lead of The Hour, and all time fave skinny-boy-crush). Obviously, I had to see him in the movie. The one problem was that I had not read the book. That’s just not allowed. So I stole the book from a house I was house-sitting. Don’t worry, I do intend to return it — eventually.
Cloud Atlas is a captivating set of six novellas, set across six different points in time. Each story is half told, starting at the very earliest point in time. At first, you find yourself in the pages of Adam Ewing’s journal, as the American lawyer travels across the south Pacific. His tale is interrupted by that of Robert Frobisher a virtuoso musician, who is as flawed as he is charming. Robert’s tale is told in the form of letters to his lover Rufus Sixmith.
Robert’s tale overlaps with that of Luisa Rey, a good fifty years later, and well after his death – but not that of Rufus. Rufus is now over 60, and plays a significant part in Luisa’s storyline too. She comes to possess his beloved letters and Frobisher’s final, and greatest, composition (music which is intimately familiar to her the second she hears it). Timothy Cavendish’s tale of imprisonment is at turns unfortunate, and hilarious. At various points throughout the captive book-publisher returns to the only manuscript he has with him: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.
Then we meet Sonmi-451, a cloned slave in a world characterised by rampant consumerism and ruled by corporations, who transcends above her fabricant-status after acquiring perspectives that she was not genomed to have. Her story brings us to the apex: the story of Zachry, a Pacific Islander.
At the mid-point, you are in a far-away dystopian future that is the cumulative effect of the events in the half-told stories that came before it. The attitudes of society have culminated in its downfall. All that remains are those last pockets inhabited by humanity after the “Fall”. You are lead over the apex, and then down again, backwards in time to the first story. The beginning and the end. He finishes each story off in the order that you left the characters – each one of them still alive in your mind. Knitting together, so very neatly, the seams of their overlapping existences.
Mitchell’s command of language and ability to traverse characters, time periods and plots is magnificent. Each story considers the over-arching themes of power and oppression,as well as those of race, class, and status. The characters struggle against these in their own ways, but ultimately each story is the same one, told and retold over eons.