Mark, that this book is no Tolstoy, and this ramble nothing but mere ramble.
Cloud Atlas strings together various pieces of historical and fictional political oppression, economic materialism, and unavoidable discussions of "human nature", to eventually present the reader a post-apocalyptic landscape (eight pages weighed down by painfully difficult-to-decipher language) that lightly touches subjects of faith and belief.
This is, however, the chronological reversal point, and the book regresses back towards keywords so flashed across the trailer of the film adaption: LOVE, COURAGE, DEATH. (If there were other keywords, they did not make enough impressions to appear in this ramble).
Then, suddenly through the final pages of The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, it was as if Mitchell finally realizes his book does not present much food for thought and the reader is bombarded by heavy sermons as below:
Why? Because of this; - one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass.
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?
And with these preachy last words, the reader reaches the end of the Cloud Atlas experience. As the book was overall entertaining and enjoyable, I would hate to bash on it - but really? "Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops" sounds like something I submitted for my university applicaton essays, circa age 16.
To be fair with regards to the rest of the book, I did become emotional after stumbling into An Orison of Sonmi-451. The ever-controversial clones versus humans topic is explored more extensively in surprisingly consistent future-speak (sonys, disneys, fords, ha!). Of course, who could ever miss the striking similarities to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep / Bladerunner (a favourite movie, no less)? The fate of the replicants intertwined in political intrigue would make this section a powerful standalone short-story.
Frobisher's Letters from Zedelghem, and The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish were well-written, delightful tales complete with hints of noir fiction. It was disappointing to not see these stories venture into realms of absurdity and the meaning of life, or the existential condemnation of men to be free. No catchy "Man is responsible for everything he does" or "one must imagine Sisyphus happy" here.