Cloud Atlas is impressive for telling one relatively simple story through six more stories, all of which belong to very different genres; a kind of meta-meta-fiction in which the grand narrative only begins to emerge a little over half-way through.
So we have a naïve witness to the colonisation of the Pacific islands; his journal read by a young composer/blagger we know through his letters to a friend from between-the-wars Belgium; 45 years later that friend, a nuclear scientist, is at the centre of a scandal and the letters fall into the hands of an investigative reporter; that reporter is actually a character in a novel submitted to a publisher; the publisher’s story is a film watched by a treasonous clone; that’s clone’s interrogation becomes bible to a post-apocalypse tribal word. And then we roll down other side of the hill. Wow!
Yet none of that defines Cloud Atlas. For me it’s that grand narrative, the idea that holds it all together. It’s not an optimistic book; the very characteristics that power our progress, will also destroy us in the end. It falls to the most naïve of the narrators to end the book with a rallying cry. He also offers something of an explanation (as do others from time to time), which I feel lets the novel down a little. I think readers should be left to work it all out for themselves.