“Escape is never further than the nearest book.”
With trailers for the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas now showing, I thought now would be a good time to explain why I would recommend this book. But where do I begin? Whenever I am asked what my favourite book is, I usually struggle with the answer because I have loved so many over the years, but as time goes by I am getting closer to conceding that Cloud Atlas might actually be “the one.” And I don’t even really know why. I just know that since reading it for the first time (I have read it several times since then) there are certain aspects of it that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. Perhaps it has something to do with my love of history; one of the main themes of the book as I see it is each character discovers something about the past that had been forgotten, whether something small like the diary of a man out at sea, or something much much bigger, like the way of life as we know it.
“Time is what stops history happening at once; time is the speed at which the past disappears.”
What is the book about? That is actually a bit of a difficult question to answer. The novel is split into six different stories, following six characters who live in different times but who are all interconnected. The periods include the 1850’s, the 1970’s, and on to a post apocalyptic future. The events surrounding some of the characters seem almost inconsequential in comparison to others – Timothy Cavendish, for example, finds himself trapped in a strict nursing home thanks to his vengeful brother, and his story is followed by the of Sonmi, a clone living in the future who tries to bring about the end of a cruel regime of slavery. I suppose something all of the stories have in common is the idea of freedom, both personal and global – the freedom to be yourself, to be creative, to enjoy basic human rights, and the fight for that freedom no matter who you are or what circumstances you find yourself in. My favourite stories are the ones involving Timothy Cavendish and Zachry – I admit I found the latter quite difficult to read, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story.
I must admit I am a bit worried that the film won’t live up to my expectations, mainly because the plot is so complex. One of the main things I like about this book is its structure – leaving one story hanging in mid-air and moving on to the next, before weaving them all back together again and moving back in time until the reader finds themselves right back where they started. Its just so different to most of the many other books I have read.
Ok, perhaps I can’t quite bring myself to say that this book is “the one.” I don’t think I will ever be able to have just one favourite book. But I certainly did love Cloud Atlas – it has history, science fiction, magic, reincarnation and more. I would recommend reading this one before seeing the film.
EDIT: Having now seen the film adaptation, I can happily say that it did live up to my expectations. Considering the complexities of the plot, the film holds up very well. And in fact, it gave me a new love for one of the stories that I had previously dismissed as my least favourite – that of Robert Frobisher. In fact in the film I think his story might be my favourite. That might be something to do with the brilliant acting from Jim Broadbent as Vyvyan and Ben Whishaw as Robert. The love story between Robert and Sixsmith, who never actually says a word but is present throughout, is both touching and heartbreaking.