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Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

ghostwritten

I’m just going to go ahead and acknowledge that David Mitchell can do no wrong in my eyes. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I love his writing and, by extension, I love him. Many of you know that after reading Cloud Atlas I had avoided reading his other books because I didn’t want to be disappointed. My co-blogger Book Worm convinced me to keep going, however, and I’m glad she did. Here’s what I thought of Ghostwritten:

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
First published in: 1999
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4.5 stars
Find it/buy it here: Ghostwritten

Ghostwritten is David Mitchell’s debut novel. In typical Mitchell style, it is comprised of several intersecting narratives that build upon each other to create a stunningly original and complex work. The novel consists of 10 chapters that read like short stories but that are connected in such a way that each progressive chapter contributes to a greater understanding of the conclusion. Chapters takes their titles from the location in which they are set and each one presents a different character and viewpoint. We follow the stories of a terrorist cult member in Okinawa, a record shop salesman in Tokyo, a corrupt British financial lawyer in Hong Kong, a female owner of a tea shack in China, a non-corporeal entity in Mongolia, an art thief in Petersburg, a musician in London, a female physicist in Ireland, and a late-night jazz DJ in New York who is broadcasting the potential end of the world. The final chapter then returns to the point of view of one of the original nine characters from the preceding chapters.

There are threads throughout each story that link the lives of the book’s various characters. These threads start to come together in greater frequency as we move toward the conclusion when some (but by no means all) questions are answered. The novel is a blend of genres and while some chapters seem bizarre, they are grounded in the plausible.

Ghostwritten is now my second favorite of his books after Cloud Atlas. The two are actually fairly similar, although Cloud Atlas is more ambitious for its alternating time periods – time in this book moves forward chronologically (with a few exceptions). It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel because it is so complex and well-developed. I love Mitchell (have I mentioned that already?) for the ways in which he develops rich characters and complicated plots. He is one of the few authors I have come across that has been able to write characters of different genders, ages, and nationalities in a completely genuine and believable way.

Reading this book is like trying to piece together a puzzle. It’s an experience. The writing is fabulous the details connecting his narrative threads are pure genius. As we’ve mentioned previously, Mitchell views his various books as pieces of a larger work. Several Cloud Atlas characters make their first appearance in this novel (I’ll leave it to you to find out which ones but one of my favorite Cloud Atlas characters shows up here). Now that I’ve read several (Thousand Autumns, Bone Clocks, Cloud Atlas and Slade House), I can see some of the threads that are running throughout the novels indicating that each novel may be a chapter in a larger work.

But what is it about, you ask? It can be hard to summarize the plot of a Mitchell novel. There is a passage in Ghostwritten where a young woman is reading War and Peace and a character from a later chapter asks her what the novel is about. It goes like this:

Why things happen the way they do,” the girl, who’s Australian, blandly replies. “And why do things happen the way they do?” the Dane persists. (He thinks she’s cute.) “I don’t know, yet,” she says. “It’s very long.”

Ghostwritten (and his other novels) is about why things happen they way they do. It is about people, ordinary and extraordinary, good and evil and how their lives are connected. And finally, it’s about chance versus fate and how seemingly random events are important and lead to significant occurances.

First sentence: Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?
Last sentences: Who is blowing on the nape of my neck? I swing around – nothing but the back of the train accelerating into the darkness.
Favorite passage: The last of the cherry blossom. On the tree, it turns ever more perfect. And when it’s perfect, it falls. And then of course once it hits the ground it gets all mushed up. So it’s only absolutely perfect when it’s falling through the air, this way and that, for the briefest time…

Want to try it for yourself (and you should)? You can purchase your copy here: Ghostwritten

Have you read this book? What did you think? Which are your favorite of his books? Least favorites?

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feel very behind on the David Mitchell front with only Jacob de Whatsit under my belt so far. Your blog has encouraged me to delve deep for Cloud Atlas – better to read it before Ghostwritten I guess? Thanks for the great review.

    Liked by 2 people

    November 24, 2015
    • Hmm, I think I’d read in order. Read this one first. I don’t think it masked a huge difference but if it were me, I’d be inclined to go inn order. Cloud atlas is better but this was very good. I hope you like it. It is a blend of genres so you have to like a variety of styles to enjoy. Thousand autumns was the least like his normal style

      Liked by 1 person

      November 24, 2015
    • If it helps, I went Cloud Atlas, Thousand Summers, Ghostwritten, number9dream, Bone Clocks and didn’t suffer. I actually enjoyed having read Cloud Atlas before Ghostwritten and having a moment of realisation that there were links.

      Liked by 2 people

      November 24, 2015
      • I read them in the following order: Cloud Atlas, Thousand Autumns, Bone Clocks, Slade House, Ghostwritten. I did have the same moment of realizing some of the connections between Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas and enjoying the experience but I wondered if I would have enjoyed discovering it more in the appropriate order.

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        November 24, 2015
      • I think it might be the historian in me. I love travelling backwards and seeing causes of later effects!

        Liked by 1 person

        November 24, 2015
  2. I love Ghostwritten. I love number9dream as well. And Cloud Atlas. The Thousand Summers… is my favourite, though. It’s such a beautiful story, so rich and compelling. The more of his books I read, the more I suspect he has been influenced by the interconnectedness of Mishima’s Sea of Fertility books. The potential for consciousness to travel across time and physicality. The motivation behind action. Whether evil is ever as straightforward as we like to think it is. I think you’re right about Mitchell’s books being chapters in a larger work. Bone Clocks gives strength to that theory. For me, Bone Clocks is that tricky moment in a novel where an author knows where they’re headed and starts to rush to show the reader how clever their plot is.

    I have Black Swan Green on my to read pile. I’m resisting Slade House for now, until I’ve chipped away at some more of the 70+ books on that same pile!

    Liked by 1 person

    November 24, 2015
    • I didn’t love Thousand Autumns. I liked it but no where near as much as the others. Mitchell himself has acknowledged that he views each individual book as chapters in a larger work. I have to read number9dream. Glad to hear that you loved it. Also, interesting theory about his being influenced by Sea of Fertility. He certainly is well read and many of his books are packed with literary references.

      Like

      November 24, 2015
      • I found number9dream gripping and a little disturbing. I really liked the main character.

        Liked by 1 person

        November 24, 2015
    • I’m going to start reading The Sea of Fertility next year (hopefully!) and your comment on its influence on Mitchell makes the quartet even more interesting.

      What do you recommend for the uninitiated? I’ve never read any Mitchell. Thinking of dipping my toes into Thousand Autumns because that’s the one that will be least of a style shock, I think. But I’m open to more suggestions! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      November 25, 2015
      • I do love Thousand Autumns the most, because of its historical setting. I am slightly obsessed with the history of Japan’s relations with the West! Mitchell’s style is immersive and clever rather than difficult, I think. I read a lot of science fiction, as well, and there’s an element of that to his usual style. I started with Cloud Atlas because of the buzz around it at the time, and I don’t think it matters which you read first, but maybe start with his first. It’s really, really good, as Jen’s review says!
        I found The Sea of Fertility difficult. I loved the first novel, but found the nationalistic tone throughout the series overbearing. I’m glad I read them all, but they’re not my favourites of Mishima’s books. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea is my favourite.

        Liked by 2 people

        November 25, 2015
      • Thanks for the helpful reply! I was also interested in Thousand Autumns for its historical setting (Japan! — the and references to Dutch colonialism! I’m from Indonesia which was a Dutch colony for a long, long time) but if it doesn’t matter which one I read first, I may as well go big and start with Cloud Atlas. Decisions, decisions.

        Hmm, I’ve heard the same opinion about the Sea of Fertility elsewhere. It’s a bit disheartening since I already bought all four of them. Oh well, maybe I’ll have a different opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

        November 25, 2015
      • Thousand autumns is least like his other books. It really is a straightforward historical fiction. People who like historical fiction as a genre tend to say this is their favorite book. Personally, it was my least favorite of the ones I’ve read (I gave it 3.5 stars). Cloud Atlas is great and will give you a flavor for his usual style. It’s more challenging than ghostwritten because it skips all over the place but structurally it is very clever.

        We have him as one of our featured authors so you can check out what we’ve thought of all his books. We ranked them in order of preference.

        And so you end up with three conflicting suggestions — Book worm – where would you recommend starting?

        Liked by 1 person

        November 25, 2015
      • Hmm, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres but I do want to get the flavour of Mitchell’s writing so it does look like I’m leaning more towards Cloud Atlas at this point.

        Can you link me the featured author post on Mitchell?

        Liked by 1 person

        November 25, 2015
      • Will do when I get to work bc it’s hard to do from my phone. On our blog, if you go to the list of categories, click on featured author category and it should be the 2nd oldest one. Or enter Mitchell in search button. Otherwise will send in an hour when I get to work and am sitting at a conputer

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        November 25, 2015
      • Ok so the order I have read was Cloud Atlas, Thousand Autumn’s, Number9dream and Bone Clocks.

        Personally Thousand Autumn’s was my least favourite I would probably jump in at Number9dream as it is relatively short while giving you a flavour of Mitchell’s writing style and it is a good story in its own right.

        Liked by 1 person

        November 25, 2015
      • Ha ha! Now you have three very different opinions on where to start. Good luck with that although it probably just means you can start anywhere 🙂

        Like

        November 25, 2015
  3. Tracy S. #

    I’ve read and loved Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green. I’m looking even more forward to the rest of them now! And I’m also looking forward to Sea of Fertility now.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 24, 2015
    • Oh you will definitely like this one!

      Like

      November 24, 2015
  4. I’m in the same boat as you, I loved Cloud Atlas so much that I was wary about reading anything else. However, you’ve inspired me to get through his back catalogue, starting with Ghostwritten! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    November 27, 2015

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