The Cloud Atlas Readalong

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, is one of my favourite novels. Spurred by the upcoming moving adaptation by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, I will be looking at a section of this magnificent, complex book every week, ending the week the movie comes out (on October 26th). Each post will start with a summary and commentary on the section in question, followed by thoughts on the story, style, themes, characters, and so forth.

You can follow along, or join the discussion, here:

Movie review: Cloud Atlas

Introducing the Cloud Atlas Readlong—August 9th

Part 1: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (first half)—August 14th

Part 2: Letters from Zedelghem (first half)—August 21st

Part 3: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (first half)—August 28th

Part 4: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (first half)—September 4th

Part 5: An Orison of Sonmi~451 (first half)—September 11th

Part 6: Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After (complete story)—September 18th

Part 7: An Orison of Sonmi~451 (second half)—September 25th

Part 8: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (second half)—October 2nd

Part 9: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (second half)—October 9th

Part 10: Letters from Zedelghem (second half)—October 16th

Part 11: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (second half)—October 23rd

Final thoughts—October 30th

[Related] David Mitchell in conversation at the International Festival of Authors, September 20th, 2014

You might also like:

Review of Dear Life: Stories, by Alice Munro

Review of Girl Reading, by Katie Ward

IFOA 2011:
Joseph Boyden,
Kate Beaton, and more

31 thoughts on “The Cloud Atlas Readalong”

  1. I have absolutely loved this, thank you so much. Initially out of a concern in my own ability to “keep pace” with Cloud Atlas, I found this reading guide. But I have come to simply love “checking in” with it in tandem as I’m reading the book. Thanks for helping me feel confident, pointing things out here and there, and generally just being a cool “reflection” on a wonderful book. I wish there were more things like this. (Why aren’t there?)

  2. no-one yet has mentioned the quotation from Virgil used twice – the tears of things, lacrimae rerum – with its allusion to the suffering of the Trojan war, the deaths, the tears, the women dragged off into slavery, and also to Aeneas and the Roman Empire, the consequent colonisations, etc. The famous phrase could be translated as ‘such is life’.

  3. This is the BEST review of the book. We did a review of this novel on one of the latest episodes of our podcast ( and without this guide we were getting lost.
    I love that the notes are in so much detail without going overboard. After every part of the novel I went back and checked out your overview. If this site wasn’t here I think I would have gotten lost while going through the book.

  4. Having just completed the book, but not yet seen the movie, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your analysis of these stories and their links. Your comments and the conversations added immeasurably to my appreciation of this work.

    The sections of the book that were most compelling for me were Sloosha’s Crossin’ and An Orison of Sonmi 451. Concerning the latter, I came across an insightful character study of Sonmi that I think your readers may enjoy as much as I did:

    1. I’ve seen the film twice since my first post and I was delighted at the way the stories were treated. This film is destined to be a classic, if not a blockbuster. It, like the book, is not for everybody. They are both challenging, but the reward is sweet.

  5. Wow! I’ve read this book over the past week and it’s blown me away! Using your posts as I’ve read each chapter has made this a unique experience too. I want to say a big thank you for that.
    The end of this novel did not disappoint – I am always wary of endings to novels – I wait for that warm, complete feeling you can feel from a great ending. And I felt it!
    The notion of predation pervades the novel and is an undeniable human trait – and although there is no escaping this (hence the bleak future shown in Zachary’s time) Mitchell still manages to create a sense of hope at the end of the novel.
    Such a cleverly structured post-modern novel.
    Thanks again to all who have posted and have made reading the book an amazing experience.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Reading and writing in this way, and then reading comments and discussing with different people, has made this such a unique experience for me, too!

      I love the way the novel ends. Leaves me all tingly, with just the right mixture of finality and openness.

  6. I just saw the trailer of the movie. Actually based on your summaries, I was able to distinguish some of the characters and who’s playing them. For instance, looks like Tom Hanks is playing the Dustin Higgins guy from the Tim Cavendish story who throws the Knuckle Sandwich critic off the roof. Have you read the whole book ? Even if not, still based on what you read what would you say the message of the book is in a sentence ?

    1. I recognize Jim Broadbent in the Vyvyan Ayrs and Timothy Cavendish roles as well, which is interesting, as I’m not sure whether those were the connections that David Mitchell intended to be made (if he intended any connection to be drawn there at all), or if they just cast him in the two older-gentleman roles. Likewise Halle Barry is obviously Luisa Rey (though she’s a good twenty years older than the Luisa character in the book). A movie is, of course, an interpretation of the book, or inspired by a book, not a scene-for-scene rendering. So I shouldn’t nitpick too closely any casting choices until I’ve had a chance to see the film.

      Regarding your question, I read the book in its entirety a few years ago and am now doing a close re-reading for this readalong. I wouldn’t dare try to collapse such a complex novel into one sentence, or one “message”….you’ll have to pick the book up yourself if you want to distill it down into one particular message!

      1. Actually I think I’ll try to read it myself. I was wary about the length but it says online to be about 500 pages. That’s not too long considering at a younger age, I read War and Peace (that was a 1000 pages and I got very lost at some point with the confusingly similar names among Russian nobility and had to backtrack repeatedly). What you said about the ‘message’ was pretty much what I expected you would say 🙂

  7. Biding my time during a blackout, I perused the readalongs for the first 4 sections of this book. I’ve been curious about this book since last April when I read somewhere the Wachowskis were making a movie about it. I had heard its a big book and some sections particularly the middle (Zachrys & Meronym) to be a hard read. So I couldn’t goad myself into reading it. Will keep revisiting this blog to completely educate myself about the book. From what I’ve read and heard it explores the cause-effect relationship in reincarnations…sounds…unique (if I got it right). Wish the updates were quicker 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Arpan. If you have a chance, I do recommend reading the book and not just my thoughts on it. It’s such a beautifully written novel that my summaries don’t do it justice on their own. In my opinion, the first (Adam Ewing) and sixth (Zachry) stories are the more challenging ones, but the book itself is highly readable and enjoyable.

      Updates occur once a week to allow anyone who wants to follow along time to read the upcoming section 🙂 They’re timed so that the last section will go live a few days before the movie premiere in October.

    2. If you aren’t sure about the reading, you could try the audiobook. I just finished it today, and it is remarkably done. However, I’m not sure if I could have made it through trying to read the stories. (But my schedule allows me to be more of a listener on drives than a reader anyway).

      For the audiobook, they used a different reader for each story, and it did an incredible job of really bringing out the unique voices of each section.

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