Reader Review – Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is easily one of the hardest books I’ve ever reviewed. When I first started reading the novel, I was instantly grabbed by the author’s effective use of language, and the impressive amount of research he did to keep it feeling real in the historical fiction section. Even at the end of the book, I am forced to conclude that David Mitchell is a good writer, for whatever that is worth. Still, there were several annoying aspects to the book that I wasn’t able to overlook in the end.

David Mitchell’s use of companies to describe everyday objects, at first, seemed very interesting. If I went to buy a pair of shoes, in Mitchell’s world, I would be getting Nikes – because there, presumably, wouldn’t be any other option. In the end though, it really took away from the realism to have certain company names injected at every random opportunity. Kodak was once a company that was very popular in the camera industry, but I find it extremely hard to believe that every camera will be called a Kodak in the future: “Consult the Kodaks taken at my arrest if you are curious.” Kodak, of course, declared bankruptcy in 2012, and even though the company is back in business, less than 1 in 20 cameras on the market today are Kodak cameras. It’s not just the company names, but a lot of the ways of speaking that really show that Mitchell was using a formula for certain future mannerisms instead of actually writing what fit.

I was also very disturbed by the obvious narration. Isn’t it convenient how, in the Sonmi-451 sections, every question asked allows her to continue with her narration? Even when Hae-Joo asks a straightforward question, Somni-451 manages to immediately answer it, but then continues on her novel-esque chronological description of events. Eg. “So what was the Union’s interest in the colony?” “Simple: Union provides hardware, such as their solars; in return, the colony provides a safe house, kilometers from the nearest Eye.” (The question is now fully answered) “I woke in my dorm tunnel just before dawn and crept to the temple mouth. The guard…” As one who spends a proportionally large portion of his time simply fact-checking, working on language flow, and incorporating realism in a variety of other ways, this habit of Mitchell’s annoyed me to no end throughout the course of the novel.

Another thing that bothered me is the inconsistency. Take the following sentence: “I remember Hae-Joo leading me thru the dining area, numbly.” The concept here is that Mitchell boils down the spelling to be the most simple it can be – as it may or may not be in the future… Do you see the issue I have with it? It’s inconsistent. “Through” is changed to “thru”, but “numbly” is not changed to “numly”.

Yet another thing that bothered me was the unrealistic characters. Luisa Rey, knowing half the world is trying to kill her, after people appear in her apartment and try to drive her off a bridge, has the audacity to say “I have an allergy to guns.” Now, I didn’t write the character, but I have a hard time believing that someone’s dislike of a firearm would keep them from protecting themselves when their life is on the line. Also, certain “coincidences” in the characters bothered me. Mr. Meeks doesn’t talk… strange. One might say he is Meek. Wouldn’t you agree? Another thing, every time Luisa Rey turns on the TV, it has to do with the damn power plant. Every time she picks up a newspaper, it has to do with the damn power plant. Honestly, the whole structure is way too convenient – like in old, corny Hollywood movies.

Okay, this one is a personal dislike, but certain sections seemed very poorly written. For some reason, while switching between the different characters, David Mitchell abandoned good dialogue along with the idiosyncrasies in character personality. There is no excuse in my opinion for dialogue that reads “What I want from you Luisa, is a killing with intimacy.” It makes me want to throw up. The Luisa Rey section was terribly written, and Bill Smoke was the most unbelievable character I’ve ever read. I understand it was meant to read like an old detective story – I get it – but I wasn’t able to overlook the combination of awful plot and horrible dialogue in this section. Here is an actual line Bill Smoke uses to explain why he is going to go ahead with a power plant that could blow up and kill tons of people, “the usual reasons. Power, money…” WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? If a reactor goes boom and thousands of people die, I think it’s safe to say that all these power hungry people won’t get any more money from anyone when they betray the trust of the people for no good reason whatsoever.

Clearly David Mitchell is a conspiracy theorist. He has all kinds of things to say about corporations and people in power… He obviously believes that rich people are inherently evil and he looks past the fact that rich people are people too. His villains are blatantly evil and one-dimensional. I hate to say it, but I think Ol’ Dave watched a little too much TV. Several of his sections read like a badly written movie script – and I should know what that looks like, I’m a screenwriter. This is not the only time David Mitchell’s opinions shine through this novel. Every villain in the 80’s section was appointed by President Nixon. Coincidence? I think not. I’m not a fan of Nixon, but you’re alienating your readers when you ignore the authenticity of your characters to throw your own opinions around like fact. 

David Mitchell had a decent start for a novel here. I could have even looked past the extremely loose relationship between the characters. Certain sections even, were a joy to read. I absolutely loved the section that took place in the old folk’s home. The section in the 1920’s was extremely well written – actually, it was so well written in comparison to the rest of the book it made me wonder seriously whether it was really written by David Mitchell; I am almost convinced this book was a collaboration of sorts, and not the work of a single author. I wanted to like this book, but I just wasn't able to make myself look past all the problems.