How “Cloud Atlas” hooks readers

Delivering the unexpected

Photo by Michael Weidner on Unsplash

Plot Summary

Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.

Through rotting kelp, sea cocoa-nuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a White man, his trowzers & Pea-jacket rolled up. […] Thus it was I made the acquaintance of Dr. Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility.

My Fates have inclined upon me the greatest unpleasance of my voyage to date! A shade of Old Rēkohu has thrust me, whose only desiderata are quietude & discretion, into a pillory of suspicion & gossip! Yet I am guilty on no counts save Christian trustingness & relentless ill fortune!

Unexpected Structure

It has a Russian doll structure. God knows how the book gets away with it but it does, but you can’t ask a viewer of a film to begin a film six times, the sixth time being an hour and a half in. They’d all walk out.

Bonus: A few more examples

Broad smirks greeted my return & I assumed I was “the devil being spoken of,” but I learned the true reason when I opened my door: — to wit, Mr. Boerhaave’s ursine buttocks astraddle his Blackamoor Goldilocks in my bed in flagrante delicto! Did that devil Dutchman apologize? Far from it! He judged himself the injured party & roared, “Get ye hence, Mr. Quillcock! or by God’s B–––d, I shall snap your tricksy Yankee nib in two!”

Narrator: “Do you want me to deprioritize my current reports until you advise me of a status upgrade?”
Boss: “Yes. Make these your primary action items.”

She has a tinge of black blood & I fancy her mother is not far removed from the jungle breed.

Use paltry funds to obtain a dirty room in some lodging house, beg a few guineas from Uncle Cecil Ltd., teach prissy missies their scales and bitter spinsters their technique. Come now. If I could fake courtesy to dunces I’d still be swabbing Professor Mackerras’s arse with my ex–fellow undergrads. No, before you say it, I can’t go running back to Pater with yet another cri de cœur. Would validate every poisonous word he said about me. Would rather jump off Waterloo Bridge and let Old Father Thames humble me.

A server is woken up at hour four-thirty by stimulin in the airflow, then yellow-up in our dormroom. After a minute in the hygiener and steamer, we put on fresh uniforms before filing into the restaurant. Our seer and aides gather us around Papa’s Plinth for Matins, we recite the Six Catechisms, then our beloved Logoman appears and delivers his Sermon. At hour five we man our tellers around the Hub, ready for the elevator to bring the new day’s first consumers. For the following nineteen hours we greet diners, input orders, tray food, vend drinks, upstock condiments, wipe tables, and bin garbage. Vespers follows cleaning, then we imbibe one Soapsac in the dormroom.

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How The Novel Starts

I explore the opening chapters of popular novels, and figure out what writers can learn from them for their own work.