#CloudAtlasAlong: Parts 1 & 2

It's here! The first of five posts on David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas for the #CloudAtlasAlong, hosted by S. This is my first foray into Mitchell's work (I know, I know, but I've always been oddly intimidated by his writing, for some reason?). I've since learned that Mitchell references his earlier works in each of his subsequent novels, so perhaps starting in the middle of his ouevre (Cloud Atlas is the third of his six published novels) isn't the best plan, but I'm sticking with it.

A little background on the book: Cloud Atlas was published in 2004, and was shortlisted that year for the Man Booker Prize (as well as the Nebula and an Arthur C. Clarke award in the same year). The novel was adapted for film--with, I think, limited success--in 2012.

[Spoilers follow, such as they are, so if you haven't read the book--look away.]

---Part 1---

Cloud Atlas is, I've learned, a set of nested stories, the first being partial excerpt of the journal of Adam Ewing, a San Franciscan in Australia waiting repairs to his ship to sail home. This section sent me off on a massive Googling expedition: everything from Maori to Moriori (the former invaded the peaceful latter in the 1800s) to the term "Aotearea" (the Maori word for New Zealand) to the definition of "valetudinarian" (showing undue anxiety about one's health).

I'll admit I started--and finished--this first section more than a little confused by what I was reading, but willing to make the effort because... well, because so many people I know and respect really love Mitchell's work. So I figured it had to be going somewhere, right?

---Part 2---

The novel then shifts, rather abruptly (the first section quite literally ends mid-sentence), to a series of letters sent from Robert Frobisher to the unidentified "Sixsmith." I had a much better time getting a grasp on the flow of the story, such as it is, in Frobisher's letters than I did in Ewing's journal--and then, lo and behold!, the two converge, in a way, when Frobisher finds a segment of Ewing's published journal (presumably the same segment we were treated to in the first section) amidst the library of his current abode:

"Something shifty about the journal's authenticity--seems too structured for a genuine diary, and its language doesn't ring quite true--but who would bother forging such a journal, and why?"

This quote marked the first time Cloud Atlas really hooked me--and I'm sure that's Mitchell's intent. Frobisher goes on to urge Sixsmith to find out more about the journal, for, as he aptly states, "A half-read book is a half-finished love affair."

Frobisher is flowery and entitled, obnoxious and more than a little over-the-top, but I found myself falling for the way he depicted his unreal and far-too-good-to-be-true little set-up to Sixsmith, ending on this fine reflection on the seasonal shifts:

"Gardener made a bonfire of fallen leaves--just came in from it. The heat on one's face and hands, the sad smoke, the crackling and wheezing fire... Air in the chateau  clammy like laundry that won't dry. Door-banging drafts down the passageways. Autumn is leaving its mellowness behind for its spiky, rotted stage. Don't remember summer even saying good-bye."

Serious question, though: What does Frobisher have against verbs?


These first two sections felt like a tease; Mitchell's given me enough to have me interested, but not yet enough to have me hooked. Looking forward to seeing where we go with the next parts, and how this comes together. Is Adam Ewing really sick with a rare parasite that must be kept secret, and are Dr. Goose's "treatments" legit? What will become of Frobisher's dalliances with a married woman? And of said married woman's daughter's hatred of Frobisher? And who the hell is Sixsmith, anyway?


If you're reading along, what do you think so far? And if you've already read it... well, please don't tell me what happens next.


  1. Oh my gosh, I'm so excited because I feel like you guys have NO IDEA what you're even in for.
    I love so many things about this book, but agree that Adam Ewing is the pits and I love Frobisher. So much love. Also, I have feels about the movie that I can't even properly explain.

  2. I feel the same way... like if I didn't know so many people loved this book, I might not have gotten past the first section, but knowing how beloved it is, I figured there HAD to be more, but I have no idea what to expect next. I'm almost giddy to be going in so blind.

    And yeah, Frobisher--as entitled and snobby as he is--is kind of amazing. Like, hey, I have no money and no job and have been disinherited by my family, so, I know! I'll just borrow a bike from a cop and find this ailing musician and be his amanuensis and accidentally-on-purpose fall into bed with his wife while I'm at it. Who even has a life goal of being an amanuensis and uses the word amanuensis instead of apprentice? Frobisher, hater of verbs, that's who.

  3. I agree this first section was a bit of slog to get through, but I enjoyed the second section a lot. I also am intrigued by Sixsmith, and wonder just what role he plays. It's kind of fun to force ourselves to pause and speculate a bit, right?

  4. I'm having SO much fun reading these posts. And it's great that you guys are reading as a group! I read Cloud Atlas with another blogger around when the movie came out, and it was so nice to discuss as we went along.

  5. That's one of the things I always like about readalongs--the forced pauses as much as the "forced" schedule (keeping me from pausing for TOO long!). I'm excited to see what unfolds next, and have already carved out tomorrow morning's reading time for the next parts.

  6. I'm so glad you're following along! It feels like such a treat to be going in blind but with the conversation of those who HAVE read it as well as those who haven't. For some reason this book has always intimidated me, so I'm glad to have a group to read with :-)

  7. This is my first time "hosting" and it's so great to have people interested, reading, and posting, so thanks so much for that! I'm hoping to reading section 3 tomorrow after work, so we'll see how that goes. I'll tweet you if I get through it tomorrow, and see where you're at :)

  8. I love you post here! I had no issues with Frobisher and his hatred against verbs --- but now that you point it out. :D

  9. I don't know why the Frobisher/verb issue went up my spine so much, but it did! (I still really liked his section, though.)

  10. I promise not to spoil anything, but I read this a couple years ago and it was so excellent. It took me until the end of the second section to really get into it, but I loved all the overlapping interlocking worlds that he created. His work challenges me in a very unique way


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