CLOUD ATLAS: A DAY OF ILLUMINATION
Scene: a comfortable house somewhere on Wenlock Edge, a cool August day, 2006
Characters: eight members of the Wednesday afternoon “Reading for Pleasure” group
Event: a day exploring aspects of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” helped by good food and drink, and various reference materials.
The group had decided in advance that each of the six sections or stories in “Cloud Atlas” would be read and analysed by a member of the group, as a way of trying to unravel and make sense of them. Each story is in two halves, and we spent the morning examining parts of Adam Ewing’s diary, Robert Frobisher’s letters and Timothy Cavendish’s ghastly ordeal. Lively conversation and discussion led us to agree that the common themes of these plots were exploitation, control, explorations of different power dynamics and slavery, and varying perceptions of freedom.
After a convivial lunch, we returned to our themes, this time working ourselves on different types of writing styles, echoing those used by David Mitchell. We each prepared a short piece in two halves, using six different styles, with the theme of pathways, in which we had to include the two words “missing button”. After an intense 15 minutes of thinking and scribbling, we emerged with some extremely amusing and intriguing story lines. This fun exercise impressed on us the enormity of the task accomplished by David Mitchell, who spent at least 3 years writing “Cloud Atlas”.
We spent the last part of the day connecting to the half lives of Luisa Rey, the interview with Somni, and last (or first…it is the pivot of the book!) the description of Sloosha’s crossing and everything after….Mitchell clearly had a lot of fun as well, weaving the common parts and overlapping threads (such as the Adam Ewing diaries, the Cloud Sextet; the comet birthmark) and using a different model or author’s style for each.
The day ended musing over how optimistic the book is. It finishes on a positive note: Adam Ewing’s’ father is concerned that only as Adam dies will he realise that his life “amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean.” But as Adam says: “What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” David Mitchell suggests that Cloud Atlas can be distinguished form his other books as it has “more of a conscience…I think this is because I am now a Dad. I need the world to last another century and a half, not just see me to happy old age…
And we only touched the surface!
Many thanks to everyone who took part, and to Judith Boot who welcomed us so smilingly to her home.