“Cloud Atlas” (Post 2/3)


[Explanation of Reading Journal/Ratings]

Post 1/1

Post 3/3

STORY D: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (1/2)

Told by Cavendish in first person as a memoir/manuscript.

Cavendish and Frobisher are both British men with the tendency to complain and make snide observations about the world. But while Frobisher’s charm maintains goodwill, Cavendish is an unlikable, spineless whiner. His “ordeal” is a comedy of errors. The humor in his story isn’t intended by Cavendish; he’s not trying to make jokes. We see it as funny because he’s so indignant and sure of his invisible audience’s agreement with his every complaint.

I can’t emphasize enough the incredible range Mitchell displays in this book. These characters are so distinct and realized. I’m in awe of what he’s done here.


Finch wouldn’t have been a critic if he didn’t love unearned attention.



You’ll notice, I am always attacked in threes.


[49] Vocabulary:

“The days when I had that kind of spondulics at my beck and call are gone, gone, gone!”



Spondulix is 19th-century slang for money or cash, more specifically a reasonable amount of spending money. There are many alternative spellings (spondulicks, spondoolicks, etc.).

[50] Cavendish receives a manuscript of “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery,” authored by Hilary V. Hush (who we later find out is a male). No one with the name Hilary V. Hush appears in Rey’s sections which raises some questions:

-Is Hush a pseudonym of someone who did appear in Rey’s story?

-Is Rey’s entire story a fiction in Cavendish’s reality? (If so, how/why does it include Sixsmith and Frobisher?)

-If Rey’s story is real, her life existed concurrently with Cavendish’s. He, and all of the people in his story over the age of twenty-five (which, as far as I can remember, is 99% of them) were alive in 1975 when Rey’s story is taking place.

I’ve seen some theories that Cavendish’s story may take place in the 2040s to explain his age and Rey’s timeline, but Cavendish says his television died “the night George Bush II snatched the throne” (p.167) and George W. Bush’s election was in November of 2000 (though with all of the recount business, his presidency wasn’t officially announced until December of 2000). In any case, Cavendish was alive and aware and living in his current location around the end of 2000 and I would assume his “ordeal” is taking place within a couple of years of that event.

So, if every story contains a soul with the comet-shaped-birthmark, who is that character in Cavendish’s story? He mentions having a birthmark (note [86]) but it doesn’t match up to the shape or location of the others.

Part of the enjoyment of Cloud Atlas is never getting clear-cut answers. I love looking at other interpretations but I wouldn’t want to read something where Mitchell authoritatively sets down “the answers” to Cloud Atlas.

[51] Mitchell shows a self-awareness (and pokes some fun at himself) through his characters.

Frobisher thinks Ewing’s journal is probably a fake:

Something shifty about the journal’s authenticity – seems too structured for a genuine diary, and its language doesn’t ring quite true – but who would bother forging such a journal and why?


Cavendish calls the Luisa Rey manuscript “artsily-fartsily Clever” (p.162).

Later, Frobisher wonders if his Cloud Atlas Sextet (which is designed very much like the book Cloud Atlas) is “Revolutionary or gimmicky” (p.445). (Post 3, note [105].)


My room had high windows with blinds I couldn’t lower because I am not twelve feet tall.


[53] Reference:

The grim woman two seats ahead, reading A Moveable Feast.



A Moveable Feast is a memoir by Ernest Hemingway about his years as a struggling, young, expatriate journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920s. The memoir was published posthumously from his manuscripts in 1964, three years after his death.


Why have you given your life to books, TC? Dull, dull, dull! The memoirs are bad enough, but all that ruddy fiction! Hero goes on a journey, stranger comes to town, somebody wants something, they get it or they don’t, will is pitted against will. “Admire me, for I am a metaphor.”



I rounded a corner and found two luminous clock faces hung above the exit, but clocks in disagreement are worse than no clock at all.


[56] Vocabulary:

A howling singer on the radio strummed a song about how everything that dies someday comes back. (Heaven forfend – remember the Monkey’s Paw!)



verb – (archaic) – avert, keep away, or prevent (something evil or unpleasant).

(United States) – protect (something) by precautionary measures.

[57] Two references to cannibalism on the same page:

Leaves turned to soil beneath my feet. Thus it is, trees eat themselves.



“Soylent Green is people!” I mocked their hollow stares, “Soylent Green is made of people!” They looked puzzled. I am, alas, the Last of my Tribe.


Soylent Green is a 1973 science fiction film dealing with a dystopian future. The titular food is made of people, making the population unwitting cannibals. Cavendish is quoting the most famous line of the movie.

This becomes terribly apt in the upcoming “Orison of Somni~451” (note [76]).

[58] Reference:

“ ‘Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.’ ” Warlock-Williams looked at me as if I had spoken in tongues. “Solzhenitsyn.”

Betwys y Coed was always good enough for Marjorie and me.”



Betwys-y-Coed (“Prayer house in the wood”) is a village and community in the Conwy valley in Conwy County Borough, Wales. It is a popular tourist location.


The canned carrots were revolting because that is their nature.


STORY E: An Orison of Somni~451 (1/2)

An interview between a historian and a prisoner sentenced to death.

Also, I’m probably reading too much into this, but:

Orison = George Owell (1984)

Somni = Soma (from Huxley’s Brave New World)

451 = Fahrenheit 451

[60] Mitchell uses different vocabulary and spellings for each time period. The futuristic stories (Somni and Sloosha’s Crossin’) introduce new language which makes sense for the setting.

In Somni, the ex prefix has been reduced to x (xultation, xiters, xhorted); ght has become t (fritened, lite); and some common nouns have been changed to what once were company names (car = ford; shoe = nike; movie = disney; picture = kodak; computer = sony).

[61] Frobisher, Rey and Somni have now been established to have the same birthmark:

Your birthmark? I didn’t know fabricants have birthmarks.

We do not, so mine has always caused me embarrassment in the steamer. Ma-Leu-Da~108 called it “Sonmi~451’s stain.”

Would you show it to my orison, just as a curio?

If you wish. Here, between my collarbone and shoulder blade.

Xtraordinary. It looks like a comet, don’t you think?

Hae-Joo Im made xactly the same remark, curiously.



You said you envied your unthinking, untroubled sisters.

That is not quite the same as wishing to be one.



Two Optimists translated from the Late English, Orwell and Huxley.


Mitchell directly referring to Orwell and Huxley lends some support for reading into the story title. Of course, the twist is that they are considered “Optimists,” not the authors of dystopian works.

[64] Quite a beautiful line. It sounds like a haiku:

Snow is bruised lilac in half-lite: such pure solace.



Perhaps those deprived of beauty perceive it most instinctively.


[66] Reference:

The Rothko canvases, she hoped, I would find meditative. (…) “Rothko paints how the blind see.”



Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970) was an American painter of Russian Jewish descent. He is generally identified as an abstract expressionist.

His paintings are immediately recognizable; I should have already known who he was.


He xplained that under the Enrichment Statutes, consumers have to spend a fixed quota of dollars each month, depending on their strata. Hoarding is an anti-corpocratic crime.


STORY F: Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After (1/1)
First person, oratory.

This section is the hardest to get through. The dialect, vocabulary, and phrases are almost indecipherable at first. After about ten pages, the rhythm of the language sorts itself out (it really is like tuning your ear to a thick accent). Still, the jarring style makes it the least accessible story of Cloud Atlas.

[68] This post-apocalyptic future is strongly reminiscent of Ewing’s time.

The Moriori, from Ewing’s journal:

Since time immemorial, the Moriori’s priestly caste dictated that whosoever spilt a man’s blood killed his own mana – his honor, his worth, his standing & his soul. No Moriori would shelter, feed, converse with, or even see the persona non grata. If the ostracized murderer survived his first winter, the desperation of solitude usually drove him to a blowhole on Cape Young, where he took his life.


The Valleymen, from Zachry’s story:

We knew we’d always be reborned as Valleysmen, an’ so death weren’t so scarysome for us, nay.

Unless Old Georgie got your soul, that is. See, if you b’haved savage-like an’ selfy an’ spurned the Civ’lize, or if Georgie tempted you into barb’rism an’ all, then your soul got heavy’n’jagged an’ weighed with stones. Somni cudn’t fit you into no womb then. Such crookit selfy people was called “stoned” an’ no fate was more dreadsome for a Valleysman.


While Somni is a god of the Valleymen, “Old Georgie” is a figure of evil. There is no major character in Cloud Atlas named George. The only George references I found:


The first blow to the Moriori was the Union Jack, planted in Skirmish Bay’s sod in the name of King George by Lieutenant Broughton of HMS Chatham just fifty years ago.



Never apologize, advises Lloyd George. Say it again, only this time, ruder.


(David Lloyd George (1863 – 1945) was a British Liberal politician and statesman. He was the last Liberal to serve as Prime Minister.)

My television died the night George Bush II snatched the throne and I haven’t dared replace it.


So who is Old Georgie?

From a thread on reddit:

A guy on /r/CloudAtlas gave the best theory of Georgie that I’ve seen – that he is the guy on the dollar bill, and represents money and greed. Long after the real George Washington was forgotten, his name was remembered as the personification of the Dollar that his image appeared on.

I followed the poster’s link but couldn’t find the original thread s/he is referring to. It’s a clever theory, though, and ties in well to the theme of evil represented by a lust for power and money.


Times are you say a person’s b’liefs ain’t true, they think you’re sayin’ their lifes ain’t true an’ their truth ain’t true.



We Prescients, she answered, after a beat, b’lief when you die you die an’ there ain’t no comin’ back.

But what ‘bout your soul? I asked.

Prescients don’t b’lief souls exist.

But ain’t dyin’ terrorsome cold if there ain’t nothin’ after?

Yay – she sort o’laughed but not smilin’, nay – our truth is terrorsome cold.

Jus’ that once I sorried for her. Souls cross the skies o’ time, Abbess’d say, like clouds crossin’ skies o’ the world. Somni’s the east’n’west, Somni’s the map an’ the edges o’ the map an’ b’yonder the edges.


[71] This conversation between Zachry and Meronym is pretty much the mission statement of the book. It’s a pity to have it conveyed in such hokey vernacular:

So is it better to be savage’n to be Civ’lized?

What’s the naked meanin’ b’hind them two words?

Savages ain’t got no laws, I said, but Civ’lized got laws.

Deeper’n that it’s this. The savage sat’fies his needs now. He’s hungry, he’ll eat. He’s angry, he’ll knuckly. He’s swellin’, he’ll shoot up a woman. His master is his will, an’ if his will say-soes “Kill” he’ll kill. Like fangy animals.

Yay, that was the Kona.

Now the Civ’lized got the same needs too, but he sees further. He’ll eat half his food now, yay, but plant half so he won’t go hungry ‘morrow. He’s angry, he’ll stop’n’think why so he won’t get angry next time. He’s swellin’, well, he’s got sissies an’ daughters what need respectin’ so he’ll respect his bros’ sissies an’ daughters. His will is his slave, an’ if his will say-soes, “Don’t!” he won’t, nay.

So, I asked ‘gain, is it better to be savage’n to be Civ’lized?

List’n, savages an’ Civ’lizeds ain’t divvied by tribes or b’liefs or mountain ranges, nay, ev’ry human is both, yay. Old Uns’d got the Smart o’ gods but the savagery o’ jackals an’ that’s what tripped the Fall. Some savages what I knowed got a beautsome Civ’lized heart beatin’ in their ribs. Maybe some Kona. Not ‘nuff to say-so their hole tribe, but who knows one day? One day.


[72] Meronym has the comet birthmark:

Lady Moon lit a whoahsome wyrd birthmark jus’ b’low my friend’s shoulder blade as she sleeped fin’ly. A sort o’ tiny hand mark it were, yay, a head o’ six streaks strandin’ off, pale ‘gainst her dark skin, an’ I curioed why I’d never seen it b’fore.


It makes me wonder who Zachry is. Is he supposed to link up to another thread of character in Cloud Atlas? His initial hatred of Meronym and aborted attempts to kill her could link him to the Dr. Henry Goose/Bill Smoke line, which would give the optimistic suggestion that it’s possible for that type to break the cycle. Or, Zachry could be in the Autua/Sixsmith line; the friend and companion. But I don’t know if the characters can be so clearly defined. I’m not sure how many archetypes each story contains. I’ll have to pay attention on my next reading.


Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the Cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Somni the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.


[74] The book folds back on itself now. A speaker at the end of Zachry’s part, one of his children, has possession of Somni’s Orison and tells us to look into it, starting the journey back through the stories. (p.309)

STORY E: An Orison of Somni-451 (2/2)

[75] Somni referencing an event in Rey’s life:

The final drop shook free an earlier memory of blackness, inertia, gravity, of being trapped in another ford. Where was it? Who was it?


[76] Some form of cannibalism occurs in every story, whether it’s the literal eating of people or a more figurative case of the strong eating the weak. Somni explains to the Archivist the ultimate fate of fabricants (clones):

But… why would – What would the purpose be of such… carnage?

The economics of corpocracy. The genomics industry demands huge quantities of liquefied biomatter, for wombtanks, but most of all, for Soap. What cheaper way to supply this protein than by recycling fabricants who have reached the end of their working lives? Additionally, leftover “reclaimed proteins” are used to produce Papa Song food products, eaten by consumers in the corp’s dineries all over Nea So Corpros. It is a perfect food cycle.


Cavendish’s “Soylent Green is people!” gag (note [57]) proves prescient.


My fifth Declaration posits how, in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only “rights,” the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.



We looked at each other for the last time; nothing is as eloquent as nothing. I knew we would never meet again, and maybe he knew that I knew.



As Seneca warned Nero: No matter how many of us you kill, you will never kill your successor.


STORY D: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (2/2)

[80] Cavendish (coming out of a stroke):

A stroke? Two-stroker? Stroke me? Margo Roker had a stroke. Margo Roker?

Who are all you people? Memory, you old sod.


Margo Roker is a woman in Luisa Rey’s story who is in a coma. Does this suggest Cavendish is a reincarnate or does he have Roker’s name in his head because he read the beginning of the Luisa Rey manuscript?

[81] Reference:

Cavendish a la Carl Sagan, caged in a Dandelion Clock.



noun – 1: the white seed head of a dandelion after flowering

2: a children’s amusement in which the number of puffs needed to blow the filamentous achenes from a dandelion is supposed to tell the time.

[82] Reference:

In the Kingdom of the Dying the most Enfeebled is the common Maginot Line against the Unconquerable Fuhrer.



The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War Andrew Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles and weapon installations that France constructed on the French side of its borders with Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg during the 1930s.

[83] Reference:

A privilege bestowed by Bendincks like the Queen awarding Maundy money.



Royal Maundy is a religious service in the Church of England held on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. At the service, the British Monarch or a royal official ceremonially distributes small silver coins known as “Maundy money” as symbolic alms to elderly recipients. The coins are legal tender but do not circulate because of their silver content and numismatic value.

[84] Reference:

Being Nurse Noakes’s sheepdog was her and Warlock-Williams’s survival niche. I thought of Primo Levi’s Drowned and the Saved.



Primo Levi (1919 – 1987) was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor. He was the author of several books, novels, collections of short stories, essays, and poems. His book The Drowned and the Saved was published in 1986. In it he tried to analyze why people behaved the way they did at Auschwitz, and why some survived whilst others perished.

I read The Drowned and the Saved after reading Cloud Atlas because of this reference. Thank you, David Mitchell, for that push. I’m glad I’ve encountered Levi and I’ll likely read more of his work.


“Freedom!” is the fatuous jingle of our civilization, but only those deprived of it have the barest inkling re: what the stuff actually is.


[86] Cavendish reading Luisa Rey manuscript:

One or two things will have to go: the insinuation that Luisa Rey is this Frobisher chap reincarnated, for example. Far too hippie-druggy-new age. (I, too, have a birthmark, below my left armpit, but no lover ever compared it to a comet.)


Are we to believe this is the comet birthmark? The other characters have it between their collarbone and shoulder. “Below the left armpit” sounds like a different location.

[87] What is the origin of this sentence construct/idiom?

Ernie Blacksmith and Veronia Costello, come in, your time is up.


Come in, number __, your time is up” seems to have originated from boating. Yes, indeed. Here it is said to be a reference from when boats-for-hire managers would alert a hired boater that his time has run out.

An answer on this thread similarly says:

It’s a standard phrase from the days when parks had a boating lake where small pedal-powered boats could be hired for a length of time.


“We – by whom I mean anyone over the age of sixty – commit two offenses just by existing. One is Lack of Velocity. We drive too slowly, walk too slowly, talk too slowly. The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot abide. Our second offence is being Everyman’s memento mori. The world can only get comfy in shiny-eyed denial if we are out of sight.”


[89] The phrase “cloud atlas” or “atlas of clouds” appears in some way in most stories (except, I think, Ewing’s and Somni’s). Frobisher writes the Cloud Atlas Sextet, which Rey tracks down. Zachry says it in reference to Somni (note [73]) and here, Cavendish says:

What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.


Cavendish’s story is the hardest to fit into the rest of Cloud Atlas. It doesn’t extend any of the main themes or add to our understanding of the other characters. You could toss Cavendish out and not lose anything (if Somni watched a film version of Rey’s story instead of Cavendish’s, everything would tie together just the same). It’s not even clear if his story holds a reincarnate from any of the other tales.

So why is he here? Everything else in Cloud Atlas is so purposeful that I suspect Cavendish has a justification. Does he, by representing the present, show how modern man is disconnected from the big picture?

STORY C: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (2/2)

[91] This is a strange thing for a character in this book to say:

“The most humiliating thing you can do to a man is to save his life.”


Everyone else whose life is saved seems to be very grateful and not humiliated by the experience.


For a moment Bill Smoke wonders at the powers inside us that are not us.


[93] Reference:

“What is it?”

(…) “Cloud Atlas Sextet by Robert Frobisher. I listened to it to make sure it’s not scratched. Oh, I lie. I listened to it because I’m a slave to curiosity. Not exactly Delius, is it?”


Frederick Delius was referenced earlier by Frobisher with a bit of shade (Post 1, note [34]).

[94] Translate:

The woman creeps around him, pressing herself against the wall, shrieking, “No dispares! No dispares! No quiero morir!



Spanish: Do not shoot! Do not shoot! I do not want to die!

[95] Translate:

Yo! Amaba! A! Ese! Jodido! Perro!


The senora addresses Luisa. “Quitatelo de encima, carino. Anda con gentuza y Dios mio! Ese Viejo podria ser tu padre.



Spanish: I! Loved! That! Fucking! Dog! (…) Take it off of him, honey. Walks with riffraff. Oh my God! That old man could be your father.

[96] Reference:

The only figurative in a room of Pollocks, de Koonings and Miros.



William de Kooning (1904 – 1997) was a Dutch American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Writing a line about artists doesn’t do them any justice. Here’s a beautiful de Kooning.

[97] Reference:

“A little Emerson? Ah, yes. Remember this one? You introduced it to me.

If the red slayer thinks he slays (…)


This is from the poem “Brahma,” written in 1856. It is named for Brahman, the universal principle of the Vedas (oldest scriptures of Hinduism).

[98] Smoke says to Rey:

“Does death always make you so verbose?”

Luisa’s voice trembles. “What do you mean ‘always’?”


Smoke’s statement suggests that his soul has also had other identities in the Cloud Atlas universe and he has been with the comet-birthmark soul during another death.

Characters in Cloud Atlas are sometimes aware of “future” events (Frobisher especially seems in tune with future events in his own life and others). There’s a sense of everything existing concurrently – the timeline itself moves forward and backward on itself. In one example, Frobisher has “jamais vu” to an event in Zachry’s story (Post 3, note [119]), so Smoke can be referring to any character’s death in any timeline.

Of the other lives of the comet-birthmark soul, we only know of Frobisher and Somni’s deaths. Frobisher kills himself, dying alone, and Somni is executed after giving an interview. It could be argued that Somni’s impending execution made her “verbose” in the interview and Smoke was the interviewer. But my interpretation/guess is Smoke is referring to being Dr. Henry Goose while trying to poison Ewing. Ewing was writing excessively in his journal near what was supposed to be his end and even when dying was trying to talk to Henry.

But again, different valid interpretations can be made from the same pool of information in Cloud Atlas. That’s the beauty of it.

Post 3/3


5 thoughts on ““Cloud Atlas” (Post 2/3)

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