Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Number of pages: 426
My copy: paperback, bought from Manila International Book Fair
David Mitchell’s electrifying debut novel takes readers on a mesmerizing trek across a world of human experience through a series of ingeniously linked narratives.
Oblivious to the bizarre ways in which their lives intersect, nine characters-a terrorist in Okinawa, a record-shop clerk in Tokyo, a money-laundering British financier in Hong Kong, an old woman running a tea shack in China, a transmigrating “noncorpum” entity seeking a human host in Mongolia, a gallery-attendant-cum-art-thief in Petersburg, a drummer in London, a female physicist in Ireland, and a radio deejay in New York-hurtle toward a shared destiny of astonishing impact. Like the book’s one non-human narrator, Mitchell latches onto his host characters and invades their lives with parasitic precision, making Ghostwritten a sprawling and brilliant literary relief map of the modern world.
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This is a very, very, very late review, and I am sorry. What was I doing the past months? I don’t know, except that I was busy,and I was reading and not reviewing.
But let’s not get to to that.
When I finished reading my first David Mitchell book, Cloud Atlas, one of the many things I felt after reading that was: I’m so happy that he has other books I haven’t read yet. It’s a bit rare for me to find an author whose back list I would gladly read, all of which were praised by my friends. I was really excited to get back into David Mitchell’s writing when I picked up Ghostwritten earlier this year.
Ghostwritten, much like Cloud Atlas (but also not quite) is a collection of short stories of different, seemingly unconnected people from different parts of the world. There’s a terrorist in Okinawa, a young, half-Filipino record shop clerk in Tokyo, an British financier in Hong Kong, a woman running a tea shack in the mountains of China, a gallery attendant moonlighting as an art thief, a drummer, a physicist in Europe, a radio DJ in New York and even a strange little entity that jumps from one person to another in Mongolia. They all have their own stories, vastly different from one another…and yet, they’re all somehow connected — only in the way Mitchell can weave tales.
It took me a while to finish this, not because it wasn’t good, but I was reading this alongside Les Miserables. This wasn’t the kind of book that I wanted to rush through because I wanted to see all the connections that I can possibly can in the stories. There’s no fancy story format in this, unlike Cloud Atlas, but there’s the smooth transition from each character’s story. Okay, maybe it’s not that smooth, but the voices were so distinct, that sometimes it feels like it wasn’t just one writer writing all of them.
Thinking about this book now reminds me of this line I heard from watching researcher storyteller Brené Brown’s TED talks in the past days — how stories are data with souls. In Ghostwritten, we have several stories that span across the globe, with different characters and different settings, and Mitchell connects them with a slight phone call, an accidental crash in the road, or even just in passing. It’s interesting how these connections somehow changed the life of each character, in good ways and in bad ways. I liked how the author put it with this line: “The human world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed.” Just like in Cloud Atlas, this book reminded me of how our actions can affect one another, and how each encounter with someone can alter our lives in ways we cannot even imagine.
Another note on the book — I read Cloud Atlas with a bunch of people from the book club, and somehow it left me with a notion that reading Mitchell’s books should be a shared experience with other readers. I didn’t have buddies to read Ghostwritten with, but I stalked my friends’ buddy reads thread in our Goodreads Group for the book every time I finished a story, because I wanted to see if I missed anything. It’s not as fun as actually having buddies, but it was quite helpful to note their observations as I read the book.
I think I like Cloud Atlas just a tad more than I did Ghostwritten, but it may just be because of the style of the former. But Ghostwritten is a very good book — to think it’s Mitchell’s debut. Color me amazed. :) Like with Cloud Atlas, I can’t wait to read Mitchell’s other books. But I’m going to pace myself because I kind of don’t want to run out of his books in my TBR too fast.