Re-Reading Cloud Atlas Part II

By Kim Hollis

October 30, 2012

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Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery


As its title would indicate, this novella is a thriller/mystery novel of the type that might have been released during the 1970s or 1980s. It reminds me of the movie The China Syndrome as much as anything, but that might just be because a similar catastrophe could occur if Luisa Rey fails to discover the truth.

Upon starting this section of the story, we are immediately connected to Frobisher’s letters, because the first character we meet is the recipient of that correspondence, Rufus Sixsmith. Eventually, those letters pass into the possession of Luisa, who reads them and feels a connection to Frobisher – one that we’ll discuss further as we move into themes and ideas.

Perhaps the most straightforward of the novellas in Cloud Atlas, the book is entirely reflective of the voice of the procedural. Its titular detective (well, reporter) bucks all the rules in an effort to seek out the truth. There is a shadowy villain. There are double- and triple-crosses, as well as a face turn or two. With the “Luisa Rey Mystery,” we come to see how easily Mitchell is able to shed his skin, moving with ease from one genre to the next.



Luisa Rey may be the most uncomplicated hero(ine) in the entire novel. She is the very epitome of justice, fighting for the little guy as she works for a somewhat disreputable news organization but seeks truth nonetheless. She’s virtually flawless, lacking the character flaws exhibited by Frobisher or even Ewing. Luisa is indeed the very prototype of a mystery novel hero, and there may be good reason for that, as I suspect Mitchell wants us to question which characters are “real” and which ones exist only in books, film or other elements of pop culture.


Once again, it’s a little complicated determining who the true antagonist is in this portion of the book. In fact, we have varying degrees of bad guys, some who are fairly mild (or change their position, deciding to help Luisa in her investigation) to one who is incredibly sinister. I believe that the complexity in Mitchell’s villainous characters throughout Cloud Atlas stems from his notion that “The ethical distance from good to evil can be crossed creepingly, by a long series of small steps. As a human being, I believe this series of steps must be understood. As a parasite novelist, I find this series of steps fascinating, rich, and usable in fiction. One of literature’s strengths is that it can go back far enough and find the reasons behind the depravity.”

Rather than truly progress the characters in the “Luisa Rey” mystery through a series of events that bring them to that “depravity,” the story has different characters who represent the varying degrees of evil. When we begin the story, Sixsmith has emerged from the dark side and decides to do what he can to stop the HYDRA project from moving forward because of the potential for true catastrophe and tragedy. The same happens with Isaac Sachs and Joe Napier (who feels responsible for Luisa because he knew her father once, a long time ago). Fay Li is a puppet of the corporation, working unflinchingly against Luisa’s interests. Fay’s intentions are self-centered, but she’s also expendable, as is Seaboard Corporation head Alberto Grimaldi. Lloyd Hooks, the US Energy guru, sits atop the ladder of wrong-doers, willing to harm his country in order to improve his own position.

Continued:       1       2       3       4



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