My first experience reading David Mitchell was Cloud Atlas, a narrative masterpiece that would definitely fall into my top ten novels of all time. Based on this, I decided to try Ghostwritten, his first novel. While it fell slightly short of Cloud Atlas, I still found a lot to like about this work. Mitchell has a gift for possessing multiple “narrative voices” as each chapter centers on a very different character.
How many different characters? The novel starts with a Japanese cultist who is on the run after releasing a poisonous gas on a Tokyo subway. I have to give Mitchell credit that beginning your novel with a character like this is a very brave decision. The next chapter is a love story, told from the perspective of an adolescent expert on jazz. Next, we have a wealthy British trader staying in Hong Kong, attempting to deal with the stress of being involved in some shady financial dealings, divorcing his wife, and being haunted by a little girl. This is followed by an even greater variety of characters: an old woman who runs a tea shack near a Buddhist temple, a disembodied spirit who can inhabit the bodies of anyone, a female art thief in St. Petersburg, a ghostwriter of celebrity autobiographies who is struggling with his life decisions, a scientist on the run from her employers, and a late night DJ in New York who is taking calls from a superior cyber-consciousness with a moral dilemma regarding humanity’s right to survive. While each character’s story can be enjoyed on its own, Mitchell excels by slowly weaving threads that connect all of these characters from different parts of the world together. The result is a metaphysical journey that explores the age-old question of chance versus fate.
I love Mitchell’s use of different voices and genres, and he manages to do justice to each one as each chapter has its own feel. Most of the chapters are told in the first-person, and I found each one to be very unique, which is the highest praise I can give for an author’s first novel.
What Mitchell has achieved is a cat’s cradle of a story whose design grows the further you delve into it. Near the beginning, one character from a previous story will make a small appearance. In the later chapters, the connections begin to grow denser as a larger tapestry begins to show. This work definitely shows some of the style that Mitchell’s later novel Cloud Atlas will demonstrate.
“If you’re in your life, chance. Viewed from the outside, like a book you’re reading, it’s fate all the way.”
What are your thoughts on the review or this book?