This is a brilliant novel, although I have discovered that my brain is certainly not measuring up to the task of comprehending its entire plot. I will need to do further research into its analysis. Listening on an Ipod constricted my ability to go back and reread. Some words were, therefore, incomprehensible.
There are six separate enormously imaginative stories that intertwine throughout, some more gruesome than others, each a study in some kind of hopelessness or failure of society to achieve its ultimate goals, some of which are heinous. Each of the characters is connected in some way, a birthmark, a friend, a lover, a movie, a diary, a letter. Each of the stories takes place in a different time frame. Each story is begun and then the reader is left adrift as another begins. However, the thread of each story is picked up and connected to the one previous as it is worked forward in time. Without warning, the stories actually begin again, and this time, they work backward in time to the ultimate conclusion which seemed to me to be the hopelessness of hope.
I thought the major theme was that the drive for power, for control over someone weaker, remains throughout history, far into the future, as the brutality that the human being is capable of, comes full circle, with the stronger still overcoming the weaker, enslaving them and justifying any means to get to the end they pursue. It is dystopian, even as the effort continues to create Utopia. Civilization does not seem to make much progress except for the improving technology, and in the end, that technology is what ultimately brings about its downfall. One of the characters, Louisa Rey, is told by her father that you have to lie sometimes, to get to the truth. It seems like an oxymoron, but it is the core of the tale because contradictions coexist with each other, and more often than not, they are not harmonious or successful. Oftentimes, the truth is dangerous.
The opening sentence is poetic and I anticipated more of the same, but the tale grew a bit confusing and therefore more daunting. The story is revealed through the memoirs, lost journals and diaries of the main characters. Each story is in a different venue and is told with a different voice, depending on the country, time frame and personality of the characters. This takes some getting used to, since often, the dialogue is very creative and odd word combinations are used which the reader has to decipher.
As we read, we watch the progress, or lack thereof, of civilization from the early 1800’s, well into a future that enslaves humanoid clones, programmed for specific jobs and then eventually to a world that is almost beginning anew after a catastrophic event. Civilization thrives and decays, returning to its barbaric beginnings, even with the enormous advances of the scientific world which provided incredibly advanced tools.
The characters are flawed, even those high minded in their efforts to achieve their goals. Age old prejudices persist into the future. The Cloud Atlas feels more like a series of novels linked together, or perhaps, a series of connected short stories with a definite Kafkaesque feeling of helplessness to effect an eventual meaningful change.
In the closing sentences, a statement is made by one of the first characters we meet, Adam Ewing. He says, when he is being discouraged about the future, that each droplet is part of the ocean…meaning each droplet must truly count, and change will come about little by little. Yet, when you turn the final page, I wonder if you will think that the more things change, the more they remain the same!