Reread #2: Cloud Atlas

by david

Aside from the easy snobbery of “I liked it first,” my first thought of Cloud Atlas is tied by a nose: dual memories of a journalist driving off a bridge and of my own excitement over the reemergence of a piece of music central to one of the six stories the novel tells.

Back up. The book is now a movie-to-be, so it’s being widely read and discussed. It’s difficult to avoid all of the coverage, so I’ve caught bits and pieces. It looks like the movie is going a different way,  and that’s good. I remember the book being unfilmable.

So my memories of the book are both boosted and tricked by the movie trailer. Additionally,  they’re confused by parallel between a movie element and an element of Mitchell ‘s early novel Ghostwritten. Where the Atlas movie introduces some idea of souls over time, Ghostwritten concerns an invading spirit, an occupier across different lives. A decade or so since reading either, and some things have muddied.

Let’s see if I can remember the six stories:
1. Sick world traveler,  maybe 1400s? It’s his journal. I cannot remember the nature of his drama, but I believe it involves someone in a pit. That, however, could be a detail of #6.
2. A composer has written a piece of music called “Cloud Atlas” – I have no clear memory of anything here.
3. Even foggier. Someone is reading the journal of #1’s traveler. Maybe the journal is incomplete?  A rare book or music collector?  Somebody is gay and hiding it? Total gray space.
4. In the style of a best-selling thriller, Mitchell tells of a muckraking journalist uncovering corporate malfeasance of some sort. I’m almost certain the company has an office, headquarters, or power plant off the coast, that there’s a long bridge,  and that the journalist drives off the bridge while being shot at. This is probably where the story breaks.
5. This involved a clone or robot. Near future?
6. Far in the future, after the fall of civilization. Don’t remember the details,  but I know I read it at a sprint.

I remember being blown away and shocked he could manage six styles in one novel, more than six stories.

Let’s get started.

[UPDATE: Thumbing through the book after reading about 40 pages, I caught a section header: “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” and the premise and two details of that story came back to me suddenly, as well as my memory of it being one of my favorite parts of the book. Can’t wait.]