Rated Reads

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell

Rated: High

This book is a collection of six stories that ever-so-slightly connect, and they’re arranged in an unusual way, so unusual, in fact, that at the first point in the book that one story paused and another began I thought there was something wrong with my Kindle. But no, it was all as planned.

In brief, the first tale features San Francisco lawyer Adam Ewing, on a voyage on the Pacific in 1850; the second focuses on a decidedly amoral composer named Robert Frobisher in 1931 Belgium; the third centers on a young reporter named Luisa Rey covering a possible story of a cover-up at a nuclear reactor in 1975; the fourth on current-day British vanity publisher Timothy Cavendish, stuck in a nursing home against his will; the fifth on a future society set in Korea in which servants who do all of the menial work are clones bred in tanks, and one, Sonmi 451, becomes more human and is embroiled in some kind of plot; the last and somewhat central tale is set in a post-apocalyptic island culture in which a young boy, a goat herder named Zachry, helps a visiting scientist and learns more about the technology that used to be common in the world.

Each story is well written and honestly distinct from the others in style and setting. Each has a different tone and approach; some cheesy sci-fi and thriller, some a bit cynical, and others thoughtful. Themes of aging (and what modern society does to try to avoid it), the power and greed of corporations, reincarnation, the hierarchy of class in all cultures, and the potential dangers of technology run through the stories. It was all interesting and absorbing and in some ways thought-provoking. At the same time, I wondered when there would be a grand payoff, and to me, there just wasn’t one at the end. It just kind of … ended. Perhaps that was intentional, a message of its own about life and death and belief systems. At any rate, I was a little disappointed. I would, however, enjoy a book-club discussion of this one!

Rated: High. The book is fairly long, so in a way, there don’t seem to be really frequent uses of harsh language, but there are a few places in which it is concentrated. There are eight to 10 uses of strong language and more occasions of other moderate language; some sections, set in older times, don’t use any bad language. There is some violence, some rather immediate. There are sexual scenes, but the details are fairly limited. More often, there are just somewhat crude references, and there are slight references to homosexuality. There is one scene of a group rape of a boy, which has very little detail. In a way, from what I can gather of the movie without watching it, it seems to me that this book is a bit less graphic than the film version.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Cloud Atlas
  • by David Mitchell
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: