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Old 11-20-2012, 07:14 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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November 2012 Discussion: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (spoilers)

Let's discuss the November 2012 MobileRead Book Club selection, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. What did you think?
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Old 11-20-2012, 07:15 AM   #2
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I think having finished the book, I'll see the movie today at noon.
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Old 11-20-2012, 10:23 AM   #3
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After the hype this book received I was disappointed. One major objection is after reading though all these individual stories I was anticipating an ending that would explain the relationship between them, the grand theme that tied them all together. All there was regarding that was a simple homily; “Mankind would be much better off if we were all nice to each other than if we compete in a dog-eat-dog world.” Sorry, but that did not require ~500 pages to develop. There was the theme of reincarnation, but that was spotty and inconsistent. Sometime characters experience vague memories of past lives, and sometimes not. That and sometimes this was tied into a comet birthmark. Or was it just by coincidence that a life record in whatever form the previous age's technology would dictate—from personal written journal to orison—happens to fall into the hands of principal character of the next in time line?

An additional complaint is how hokey and derivative many of the tales were. That tale of Luisa read like a mash up of film scripts from the 1970s for which the central theme was the “system” is controlled by powerful evil men out to do the public harm. In this case it was a blend of Three Days of the Condor and The China Syndrome. That and the typical cliches were all there. Idealistic young reporter is suddenly thrust into the middle of a story fraught with personal danger, and only her bravery and dedication can save the world. Of course there is the burnt out mentor who has lost his moral compass, but in the end will be pricked by his conscience and save the day at the cost of his life. And as far as the Tale of Sonmi 451, someone obviously read A Brave New World and was impressed. Other tales just seemed pointless; e.g. Timothy Cavendish and Robert Frobisher.

So maybe I am being overly hard on this book because of all the media praise and the awards it won. Sorry but in my opinion there is nothing exceptional about this book that warranted any awards.
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Old 11-20-2012, 10:39 AM   #4
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I agree with Hamlet53. I enjoyed the stories individually (varyingly), but was expecting them to be tied together in the end.
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Old 11-20-2012, 05:20 PM   #5
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I find this a confusing mish-mash of individual stories with a very thin thread to tie them together. I too feel this book did not deserve to win an award. After reading this, it definitely did not belong in the SF month. It's not even fantasy. It's just convoluted fiction. In one story, the previous story was a submission to a publisher to be printed as a book. But it could have been any story submitted as the previous story had nothing to do with the previous story otherwise. Also, the threads that combined the stories are very weak. These could easily have been standalone stories.



As for the movie, I'll wait to borrow the DVD from the library.
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Old 11-21-2012, 01:41 AM   #6
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I'm currently in the third story. Actually I set it aside because another book grabbed my attention. I didn't care for the first story because I don't really care for the Victorian style, but I was impressed by the author's ability to replicate the language of that era. The second story was interesting and humorous enough that I would have gladly continued if it hadn't suddenly stopped. I enjoyed it, but not so much that I'd recommend to it someone. When I set aside the third story, the pair were talking while trapped in the elevator...

Based on what I've read, I don't understand why the book received so much attention. Perhaps there are merits that I don't recognize because I'm an amateur. I'd love to be enlightened.
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Old 11-21-2012, 02:48 AM   #7
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I did manage to see the last showing in the Tidewater area of the Cloud Atlas movie, and if you think the book was convoluted, you should see the film. Had I not read the book first, I don't think I would have had a clue what was going on. The film's structure was completely different. Where the book, with one exception, presented the first half of each story in chronological order, then completed each story in reverse chronological order in the second half of the book; the movie jumped back and forth from one time period to another continuously.
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Old 11-21-2012, 03:32 AM   #8
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Thanks for this guys. I had this on my wish list, but I think I'll tackle his Black Swan Green before I get too excited about starting this one.

It might actually be something I like, but I'm not interested in paying to find out at the moment.
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Old 11-21-2012, 03:37 AM   #9
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I have to thank Overdrive for allowing me to read Cloud Atlas without having to pay for it. It's not worth the $11.99.
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Old 11-21-2012, 10:09 AM   #10
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Some quick observations:

• I was glad when reading this book that I have a reader (mine is the Kindle Paperwhite) that not only has a good dictionary, but also translates foreign phrases; as unfamiliar terms and forays into non-English territory are liberally sprinkled throughout the book.

• The book had many notable and quotable passages, as seen from the quotes posted in kennyc's quotation thread. Search the thread, and you'll find a wealth of wonderful quotations from Cloud Atlas.

• The line in "Letters from Zedelghem" introducing the start of the affair between Robert Frobisher and Vyvyan Ayrs's wife ("Which brings me to Madame Jocasta Crommelynck. Damn my eyes, Sixsmith, if the woman hasn’t begun, subtly, to flirt with me.") reminded me of the situation between the young Lord Bertrand Russell and his mentor and co-author Alfred North Whitehead. Might that have been in David Mitchell's mind when he wrote those segments?
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Old 11-21-2012, 10:43 AM   #11
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They all have a common theme of the strong preying upon the weak.
"The weak are meat for the strong to eat." There's a reason the book starts off with a discussion of cannibals.

“Why fight the 'natural' (oh, weaselly word!) order of things? Why? Because of this―one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.”

It's sort of an anti-Atlas Shrugged.

Individually, the stories are fairly simplistic, but the structure (which is abandoned by the movie) makes the book.

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Old 11-21-2012, 10:49 AM   #12
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I really liked the movie too. It has some problems but I was never bored even though it was almost three hours long. It drops the nested structure of the book and interweaves the stories together, going back and forth between the six strands.
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Old 11-21-2012, 11:39 AM   #13
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I’m glad I read Cloud Atlas. Despite, maybe because of, the cleverness of the structure, I doubt it succeeded all that well. I’m about as confused as most other readers. But the prose was magnificent. The author’s ability to capture a believable tone in the disparate eras and personalities was remarkable. Each story was entertaining. I often felt while reading that David Mitchell is a genius and this book was over my head. Even though my inability to grasp much of Mitchell’s magnificent vision may be as much his failure as mine, I was happily carried along by his prose. Some sentences were so perfect and beautiful I could hardly let go of them.

While reading I was reminded of one of the happy days spent at Seattle’s downtown art museum with my granddaughter, then fifteen. We had been waiting when the doors were unlocked in the morning and now they had locked up behind us at dusk. She said, “I love being here because when I come out it feels like I have new eyes.”

There are books that give me that ‘new eyes’ sensation although I can’t articulate yet why this is so with Cloud Atlas.

When a book is as dense with allusion as this one I am slow to grasp why I enjoyed it, and perhaps it is only the writer’s extraordinary facility with words. But I think it is more than that even though I may be among the deluded insisting that the emperor has clothes. Still, this was one of those rare books that will stay with me until I understand why it is haunting me.
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Old 11-21-2012, 01:29 PM   #14
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Sometimes the allusions hit you over the head. Like the naming of the unfortunate homosexual who hung himself aboard the ship in "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" (omitted from the movie version) "Rafael" (Raphael).
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Old 11-21-2012, 01:32 PM   #15
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Which brings up a question: might Rafael have been a earlier incarnation of Robert Frobisher?
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