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Fiction

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

ghostwrite [ˈgəʊstˌraɪt]

vb -writes, -writing, -wrote, -written

(Communication Arts / Journalism & Publishing) to write (an autobiographical or other article) on behalf of a person who is then credited as author Often shortened to ghostwriter  n

I have heard so much about David Mitchell and when my manager loan me his first novel, I jumped at it. I like to read about speculations on chance and fate, and this book has plenty of it. It is sort of like a ‘novel of ideas’. In fact, what makes it memorable is the range and variety of its writing – cartoonish, profound, lyrical, dramatic, cynical and stylish. When Mitchell wrote this he was only 31. The assurance and the ambitious story panache with which Mitchell handles these changes is truly remarkable. He can certainly do the voices.

These are the 9 main characters of the 9 different stories:

  • Okinawa – To start with, we are inside the head of a Japanese cultist, Quasar who has released poisonous gas on the Tokyo subway and is now on the run in Okinawa.
  • Tokyo – Then there is an adolescent jazz buff Satoru who works in the record shop as shop assistant, and fell in love with a girl called Tomoyo;
  • Hong Kong, a Nick Leeson-like Hong Kong trader called Neal Brose who see his life crumbled with his affairs with his maid, the divorce from wife Kate Forbes; and unscrupulous self gain on a money laundering Russian criminal syndicates that brought his downfall. (My favourite story)
  • Holy Mountain – An old Chinese woman who runs a tea shack near a Buddhist shrine on the foot of the Holy Mountain of China, reminiscence of her experience from cultural revolution to modernisation;
  • Mongolia – a disembodied spirit in Mongolia which can occupy the consciousness of anyone chasing an origins of a story, a story about 3 animals who think about fate; 😉
  • Russia – a femme fatale, named Margaret Catunsky, mixed up with art thieves in St Petersburg; who is one of the most pathetic character that I empatise with as she took the risk and lay down her life for her lover Rudi to steal the Delacroix art work in exchange for a better life in Switzerland. (Another of my favourite)
  • London – a ghostwriter of minor celebrity autobiographies, Marco, up to high jinks in London’s low life;
  • Clear Island – an Irish physicist, nuclear scientist Mowleen Muntervary, fleeing her Dr Strangelove-ish paymasters from Texas;
  • and finally in New York, a late-night shock-jock, Bat Serungo, in an apocalyptic New York of the near future who finds himself taking calls from a superior cyber-consciousness called Zoo keeper.

Phew. The miracle is that there is never a sense of Mitchell struggling for air.

Rating: 4.5/5

David Mitchell has quoted that his biggest influence is Murakami and due to his 8-year residence in Japan and longer term Japanese influence now because his wife is also a Japanese, his writing is a mish-mash of Japanese and Western Literature. The constant name dropping of famous recording artist left me the impression of Murakami. Otherwise, I have not read enough Japanese literature to be able to say which other Japanese authors trademarks are part of his writing, but critics have quipped as saying the crystal-clear nihilism of the opening section, bear traces and echoes of Mishima. I do agree that the structure of the novel reflects Eastern thought and ideas of chance and synchronicity, and you are able to find the subtle link between one story to another (for more of the connection, you can check Wikipedia once you finish the book). The chance factor is also elaborate in the London ghostwriter story as Marco gets into a scrape at a casino – there are reflections on fate and fortuity. On top of all this is a thriller plot to do with the discovery of a means of reversing the sequence of cause and effect and saves the world.

My only qualm in this case is that there is too much pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, the scientific jargons and reference of events and names just went over my head, and there are many of these instances in the last two chapters. My brain starts seizing up. I skim read and then back track to read what I have missed and I’m sure I am still missing the point at the last chapter before the epilogue! There is the only downfall of an uneven effort, in an otherwise superb effort.

It reminds me of the movie Crash (2004), where this attempt to explain plausibly how a seemingly insignificant event in one person’s life can irrevocably alter the life of a complete stranger halfway around the globe; that all our lives, remotely linked as it may seems, are linked in a common thread that we couldn’t see.

Ghostwritten is also gracefully plotted, the two favourite stories I tagged are both gripping and intense, as I am swept away by the protagonists journey towards their doom. My advice, is just to enjoy the brilliance of the storytelling, the eclectic and variety, the speed of thought, the stories in different voices. Mitchell can do a sci-fi thriller, he can do voices of lovesick puppy, and metaphysical doomsday fiction. All requires remarkable talent. Sit back and soak up the voices. Enjoy the journey, forget about the destination, because there isn’t one.

First line: Who was blowing on the nape of my neck? I swung around. The tinted glass doors hissed shut.

Last line: Who is blowing on the nape of my neck? I swing around – nothing but the back of the train, accelerating into the darkness. 

How cool is that? I want more of Mitchell.

Paperback. Publisher: Spectre 1999; 438 pages; Around the globe. Source: Justine T. 16 July 2010

About the writer:

David Mitchell was born in Southport, Merseyside, in England, raised in Malvern, Worcestershire, and educated at the University of Kent, studying for a degree in English and American Literature followed by an M.A. in Comparative Literature.

He lived for a year in Sicily, then moved to Hiroshima, Japan, where he taught English to technical students for eight years, before returning to England. After another stint in Japan, he currently lives in Ireland with his wife Keiko and their two children.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

  1. David Mitchell is one of my favourite authors and I loved this book! I’m really pleased that you enjoyed it too 🙂

    Cloud Atlas is quite similar to Ghostwritten, so I’m sure you’ll love that too. His other books are all quite different, but wonderful in their own way – enjoy reading more Mitchell!

    Posted by Jackie (Farm Lane Books) | July 17, 2010, 3:09 pm
  2. Can you believe I haven’t read any Mitchell’s yet? Hopefully one this year. I’m thinking Cloud Atlas.

    Posted by mee | July 17, 2010, 11:54 pm
  3. Oy, I`ve yet to read any of his works. I think I´ve got Cloud Atlas on a pile here somewhere, need to dig it up 😉

    Very interesting about the Japanese influence, I´ve only read one MUrakami, but lots of Yoshimoto 🙂

    Posted by Bina | July 19, 2010, 10:23 am
    • @Bina, I think Mitchell amalgamate both Eastern and Western influence brilliantly and is a rare find. He writes love stories really well too. I think I’ll follow his novels in chronogical order, with his 2nd book published next.

      Posted by JoV | July 19, 2010, 4:58 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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