A friend recommended this book to me years ago and I'm glad I finally picked it up. In fact, it's a book I wish I'd read in university. Not only would a professor's insights into the novel be worthwhile, but having to reread it and write an essay on it would give me the time and opportunity to learn more of what David Mitchell was doing with the story and help me put my thoughts in order properly.
Pros: brilliant writing, a set of interconnected stories with thought provoking messages
Con: each story is interrupted to tell the first half of the next, when you get back to it you've forgotten minor details that are important in understanding the novel as a whole
Cloud Atlas is a novel told through six interconnected stories. For example, the musician of the second story is reading the journal written by the man in the first. And the reporter of the third story reads the letters written by the musician and listens to his music. Each protagonist also bears a comet birthmark between their collarbones and shoulder blades, giving the idea that they might be the same person, living over and over again.
The novel begins with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing. He's a notary on his way back to America from delivering papers to a client's heir in Australia. His ship has stopped at an island to resupply, and there Adam makes the acquaintance of Doctor Henry Goose.
In the second story a disinherited English musician ingratiates himself into a ailing Belgium's home, intent on helping this man finish his musical works, and bettering his own position.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Ray Mystery shows her meeting a scientist working on a new atomic energy plant, and discovers that this so called safe energy might not be so safe after all.
I won't detail the other stories as it's fun discovering what comes next. My favourite of the novel however, was An Orison of Sonmi-451. It's basically a science fiction story showing how commercialism has overtaken the world and had resonances of Soylent Green, 1984 and Battle Royale. In fact, this is a novel that on the whole, reads easier if you're well versed in literature. I recognized a few other references, but I'm sure I missed a lot of others.
And as the stories start completing themselves, messages of when you save the lives of others you're really saving your own and how our actions, big or small, shape the world around us - even if we don't live to see the effects, come to the fore.
Ultimately, it's a fabulous novel. If you like thinking about the books you read, I'd highly recommend picking this one up.