Desert Island Books 8 – Cloud Atlas

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”



I’ve written about this book several times already, in different contexts. When I reviewed Cloud Atlas under Recommended Reads, I admitted that there was more than a small chance that it might be “The One” – endowed with the coveted title of My Favourite Book, though for anyone who loves reading (and writing), it is very difficult to pick only one favourite.

So, why this one? What is it about Cloud Atlas that brings me back to it again and again? I remember when I read it for the first time, being so overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it. It’s a story that transcends time, cheats death, and shows that greatness can be achieved, even in a small way, but anyone, at any time.

“The learnin’ mind is the livin’ mind… an’ any sort o’ smart is truesome smart, old smart or new, high smart or low.”


But its not just all that – as a writer, I could also appreciate the complexities of its construction, and I loved how it was structured; each story simply stopping quite abruptly, sometimes mid sentence, before they all weave back together again. Why construct a novel in such a way? Because that’s the way it has to be; that is the way time works, moving on relentlessly. If you have read any of my posts titled Complex Connections, you will see how my own writing has been influenced by the techniques that Mitchell used – characters that are all connected in some small way, whether they know it or not, each with their own story to tell. The novel I discuss in these posts is a follow up to my published book, Beneath the Surface, exploring some of the original characters and also introducing some new ones, each with their own story to tell.

“Spent the fortnight gone in the music room reworking my year’s fragments into a ‘sextet for overlapping soloists’: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor; in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s finished, and by then it’ll be too late.

So, I love the book and its characters as much as the style in which it’s written, and the techniques Mitchell used to build suspense and connect the characters across time and distance. As with my last Desert Island Book, His Dark Materials, when I read Cloud Atlas I always feel like I discover something new, something I’ve never noticed before. This, then, is one of the reasons why I would take it with me to a desert island – I would certainly never be bored. But another stipulation would be that I would need a pen and paper as well; not just because I am a writer and want to keep writing, but because if I had a copy of Cloud Atlas with me, I would also find inspiration, and would have something to aspire to, though I’m pretty sure I could never write anything half as good.

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Sonmi the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.”




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