WIB: Nov 3-9 (NaBlo: Day 17)
[Contains spoilers for the novel Cloud Atlas.]
I didn’t know anything about the book going in, I think. I didn’t see the preview for the movie, having not had broadcast TV for a few years now. People said it was sci-fi. They said it was art. They said they loved it.
Then I read it.
Cloud Atlas has, as one of the people in my book club put it, a “bulls-eye” narrative format: there are six narrators, which we read in ascending and then descending chronological order. Each narrator exists in a different time period and at first the stories seem to have no connection until you realize that each narrator has a comet-shaped birthmark.
The first narrator, Adam Ewing, writes in 1850, and tells of his travels from the Chatham Islands heading back to San Fransisco in journal entries. The second narrator, Robert Frobisher, is a young bisexual composer in the 1930s, a letter-writer who finds part of Ewing’s published journal. The third “narrator” is Luisa Rey (who, like Veronica Mars, can rarely go without her name being used in full), whose story reads like a crappy thriller and is set in 1975. She comes in contact with Frobisher’s letters and seeks out his music. The fourth narrator is puffed-up publisher Timothy Cavendish, set in the modern day, with an unnamed year, I believe. He gets Rey’s story as an unpublished manuscript, written by her neighbor. The fifth narrator is interviewee Sonmi~451, a clone and fast-food drone who sneaks a bit of a movie about Cavendish’s “ordeal.” The sixth narrator is Zachry, an old man in Hawaii telling a story about his youth to his younger relatives. Sonmi is seen as a goddess-figure to his people. After Zachry’s section is finish, then we go back down the line: Sonmi~451, Cavendish, Rey, Frobisher, and end with Ewing.
Each section comes with difficulties. The beginning is a painful read at times because Ewing has very colonial ideas about the natives. Frobisher is completely classist and definitely a shady character. Luisa Rey’s section is written as awkwardly as most thrillers. Cavendish is clueless. Sonmi’s world is completely different than our own (and they use “disney” for “movie,” which took me a while to figure out). Zachry’s story is completely in pidgin.
Cloud Atlas is exactly the kind of book I’m talking about when I say a book is “interesting.” There’s so much for the book club to discuss here! But it definitely feels like art for art’s sake sometimes. And it is a slow, slow read. It took me about six days to get through.
Would I recommend it? Probably not, except to book clubs and literature classes. The Sonmi~451 story was my favorite part, then Frobisher, Ewing, Zachry, Cavendish, and that awful Luisa Rey stuff.
My husband and I then watched the movie and absolutely hated it.
But that’s a story for the book club.