Cloud Atlas: A Review (Spoiler Alert)

What can I say about a book that took me two months to read? A book that is built like a russian Matryoshka doll (a.k.a. nesting doll); or for those a little more literally knowledgeable, a chiasmus. Of course, the time it took for me to read a book who’s story-line is not sequential made what story-line was present seem more like a Monet than a Gustave Courbet. (Let the reader understand)

The novel is set around six stories. The first and last is about a notary from San Francisco sailing the south Pacific. I say first and last because his story is broken mid-sentence, interrupted by the other five stories which appear in its place both ascending and descending (the second story continues next to last at the end). The second is that of a musician, Robert Fobrischer. The third, that of an investigative reporter Louisa Rey. The fourth, a Mr. Cavendish (perhaps my favorite). The fifth, a a fabricant, or clone, named Sonmi-451. And finally, at the center of the book, the story of Sloosha, a stone aged type island man (who oddly enough exists, I believe, after the other stories).

Each story connects somehow to another even though they are set in different periods of time. There are interesting aspects to each story that tie them together: a shared birthmark, a familiar tune (written by our own Robert Fobrisher), or books. Each story having peculiar oddities of its own. The speech of Sloosha reminds one of the speech imitated in Shaw’s Pygmalion. Or Sonmi-451 fighting against corpocracy (commercialism), which uses the word Nike for shoes, or starbucks for coffee. Namebrands that have become common nouns. The story is full of interesting little tidbits like that, which will in the end, aid the story as it moves along…somehow…anachranistically.

My hope is to read it again the the future and break each of the stories out on their own. Perhaps this will actually tie the stories together better for my mind.

There are moments of sheer hilarity in the book. Perhaps my favorite is the second story of “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timoty Cavendish.” A tale about a man who has, in his mind, been wrongly confined to a nursing home by his brother and his attempt to break out of said nursing home. Imagine, if you will, four elderly people stealing a Land Rover and busting through an iron gate at 55 mph; who were scott free when they realized that the map where they had planed their get away was sitting back on one of their nightstands. This map included their first stop for gas and a bite, which was where they were when they realized that their mission had been compromised. Upon this realization in walk their pursuers. And who is the hero? Who delivers the old people from the clutches of the young? Ah, but the octogenarian who has been acting catatonic until he got his big break. Using his keen since of setting (A Scottish Bar) and his pursuers (a man from souther England) yells, “What did you say about the Scottish!?”

The whit in this section gave me a good belly laugh in the middle of the coffee shop I was reading in. If you read no other story in this work, this one is a must read.

If you do venture to read the book, it is worth it to see what his understanding of man’s telos is on page 507-508. I continually find it interesting that works that are dubbed as post-modern always hope for telos, or purpose. This one has a telos, but seems to hint at no purpose, only to reel it back again. It can’t quite let go of that hope.

In regards to living a virtuous life, the outer shell of our nesting doll says:

You’ll be spat on, shot at, lynched,pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naive, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than a drop in a limitless ocean!”

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?



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