Again, spoilers abound, so if you haven't read the book (or at least up to An Orison of Somni), consider yourself warned.
--- Part 3 ---The half-life, first mystery of Luisa Rey had me captured from the first paragraph:
Smog obscures the stars, but north and south along the coastal strip, Buenas Yerbas's billion lights simmer. West, the Pacific eternity. East, our denuded, heroic, pernicious, enshrined, thirsty, berserking American continent.
I am right there with you, Luisa, or David Mitchell, or whoever I'm supposed to be with. I can feel the party pulsing in the apartment next to Sixsmith's (and Sixsmith! Now we get to learn who you are), and I am ready for whatever you bring me.
'... the key to fictitious terror is partition or containment: so long as the Bates Motel is sealed off from our world, we want to peer in, like at a scorpion enclosure. But a film that shows the world is a Bates Motel, well, that's... the stuff of Buchenwald, dystopia, depression. We'll dip our toes in a predatory, amoral, godless universe--but only our toes.'
What unfolds in the rest of the first mystery of Luisa Rey, though, is a predatory, amoral, godless universe, in which people are killed to protect corporate secrets, with barely a second thought. How many characters in this section pass off responsibility for their actions? How many times do people look away?
Until they don't, and then pay the price for it. "Do whatever you can't not do," Luisa ruminates. Those are words to consider, no?
--- Part 4 ---The next section moves us even further forward in time--at least past 1983, as Timothy Cavendish recalls in his memoirs enjoying a 1983 Chablis, "a magic potion that dissolves our myriad tragedies into mere misunderstandings."
Intentional or not, tragedies that become misunderstandings--and misunderstandings that become tragedies--are the theme of Cavendish's self-reflections, many of which are darkly humorous. As the wounded author throws his worst critic off a balcony, for example:
'So who's expired in an ending flat and inane quite beyond belief now?'
More so, though, Cavendish's memoirs are peppered with reflections on aging and growing old, right up until he is locked up in an old-folks home without quite realizing where he's gone:
Oh! Aging is ruddy unbearable! The I's we were yearn to breathe the world's air again, but can they ever break out from these calcified cocoons? Oh, can they hell.
Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led.
Behold your future, Cavendish the Younger. You will not apply for membership, but the tribe of the elderly will claim you. Your present will not keep pace with the world's.Poor Cavendish--pompous money-squanderer though he may be--has one hell of a trip up to Hull before he is locked up (presumably by his scheming brother?), and we leave him as he prepares for subterfuge.
Four sections in, I am still spinning from Mitchell's nested stories. We have a publisher who is reading a manuscript--said to be fiction, but does that mean the first three sections never truly happened in the world of Cloud Atlas?--about a journalist whose story we read in the preceding section, who receives the packet of letters we read in the preceding section about a man who found the piece of journal we read in the preceding section.
Now Cavendish, the publisher, is penning his memoirs--and who will read them? Is Luisa alive? What happened to Robert Frobisher? Did anyone ever find the rest of Adam Ewing's journal?
I have so many questions, and I'm loving it.