Ghostwritten (Mitchell)

David Mitchell, 1999
Knopf Doubleday
426 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375724503

In this ambitious and electrifying debut novel, David Mitchell engages us in a literary trek across the world of human experience through a mesmerizing series of linked narratives.

At once as alike and distinct as any two pinpoints on the globe, nine characters — a terrorist cult member in Okinawa, a record-shop clerk in Tokyo, a money-laundering British financier in Hong Kong, an old Buddhist woman running a tea shack in China, a transmigrating "noncorpum" entity seeking a human host in Mongolia, a gallery-attendant-cumart-thief in Petersburg, a drummer in London, a female physicist hiding from the CIA in Ireland, and a late-night radio deejay in New York — hurtle toward a shared destiny of astonishing impact.

Like the book's one nonhuman narrator, Mitchell latches onto his host characters and invades their lives with parasitic precision. And while the voices here remain completely oblivious to the bizarre ways in which their stories intersect, they converge to render Ghostwritten a sprawling and eerily well-crafted relief map of the modern world. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 12, 1969
Where—Southport, Lancashire, UK
Education—B.A., M.A., University of Kent
Awards—John Llewellyn Rhys Prize
Currently—lives in County Cork, Ireland

David Mitchell has written five novels, two of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. 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.

In an essay for Random House, Mitchell wrote:

I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but until I came to Japan to live in 1994 I was too easily distracted to do much about it. I would probably have become a writer wherever I lived, but would I have become the same writer if I'd spent the last 6 years in London, or Cape Town, or Moose Jaw, on an oil rig or in the circus? This is my answer to myself.

Mitchell's first novel, Ghostwritten (1999), moves around the globe, from Okinawa to Mongolia to pre-Millennial New York City, as nine narrators tell stories that interlock and intersect. The novel won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (for best work of British literature written by an author under 35) and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

His two subsequent novels, number9dream (2001) and Cloud Atlas (2004), were both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2003, he was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. In 2007, Mitchell was listed among Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World.

Mitchell lists John Banville, Muriel Spark, Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Russell Hoban, Italo Calvino, Peter Carey, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Richard Wright, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Ursula K. Le Guin among his many literary influences. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
An intricately assembled Faberge egg of a novel, full of sly and sometimes beautiful surprises...[Mitchell's] book is worth a dozen of the morally anorexic first novels that regularly come down the pipe.
David Mendelsohn - New York Magazine

Ghostwritten is a brave new book for a brave new world—one encompassing globalism and grunge rock, folk tales, talking trees and terrorism. Far-out Cyberstuff. David Mitchell's breathlessly sprawling debut novel is inhabited by a large cast of spirits and unsettled souls who transmigrate faster than a bond trader reacts to a Greenspan blink. All of this intensely imaginative material is packaged as nine tales told by nine narrators from around the world. A long, strange trip it is!
Ann Prichard - USA Today

David Mitchell served notice that he would be remaking the traditional novel when his first book, Ghostwritten, published in 1999 just after he turned 30, ingeniously braided together nine stories in eight countries and suggested that the same unchanging spirit ran through its central characters, whether in Hong Kong, St. Petersburg or a New York City radio station. Forget multiculturalism: this was novel globalism and an inquiry into what the boundary-dissolving author called transmigration.
Pico Iyer - Time Magazine

This is one of the best first novels I've read for a long time. It's told in a series of gripping, interconnecting tales, in many voices, all of them imaginatively urgent. For all the plot's dazzling complexity, Mitchell's writing—which has many styles—is always simple and elegant. His people always engage the imagination, and the book is never clotted by its ambitions. It easily covers the global village but there's no sense that it's striving for multiculturalism or spectacular effects—just that Mitchell knows what he's doing. I read a proof of this on a transatlantic flight. When I got off in Atlanta, I couldn't put it down. I pulled my luggage in one hand along corridors and escalators, and held David Mitchell's last chapter up to my nose with the other. I finished at the carousel. It seemed appropriate. And it's even better the second time.
A.S Byatt

Nine disparate but interconnected tales (and a short coda) in Mitchell's impressive debut examine 21st-century notions of community, coincidence, causality, catastrophe and fate. Each episode in this mammoth sociocultural tapestry is related in the first person, and set in a different international locale. The gripping first story introduces Keisuke Tanaka, aka Quasar, a fanatical Japanese doomsday cultist who's on the lam in Okinawa after completing a successful gas attack in a Tokyo subway. The links between Quasar and the novel's next narrator, Satoru Sonada, a teenage jazz aficionado, are tenuous at first. Both are denizens of Tokyo; both tend toward nearly monomaniacal obsessiveness; both went to the same school (albeit at different times) and shared a common teacher, the crass Mr. Ikeda. As the plot progresses, however, the connections between narrators become more complex, richly imaginative and thematically suggestive. Key symbols and metaphors repeat, mutating provocatively in new contexts. Innocuous descriptions accrue a subtle but probing irony through repetition; images of wild birds taking flight, luminous night skies and even bloody head wounds implicate and involve Mitchell's characters in an exquisitely choreographed dance of coincidence, connection and fluid, intuitive meanings. Other performers include a corrupt but (literally) haunted Hong Kong lawyer; an unnamed, time-battered Chinese tea-shop proprietress; a nomadic, disembodied intelligence on a voyage of self-discovery through Mongolia; a seductive and wily Russian art thief; a London-based musician, ghostwriter and ne'er-do-well; a brilliant but imperiled Irish physicist; and a loud-mouthed late-night radio-show host who unwittingly brushes with a global cyber-catastrophe. Already a sensation on its publication in England, Mitchell's wildly variegated story can be abstruse and elusive in its larger themes, but the gorgeous prose and vibrant, original construction make this an accomplishment not to be missed.
Publishers Weekly

Gleefully self-referential, slyly philosophical, subtly postmodern, Mitchell's debut novel consists of nine intertwining tales and the people who move within and among them. Spanning the globe—from teeming Tokyo to the isolated Holy Mountain, from the idyllic Clear Island to Old Man London—the characters also run the gamut: criminal, professional, genius, provincial, fanatic. The novel evades the reader's aim to discern a moral, instead exploring the motions of consciousness through various lives in nine distinct and elegant voices. Although the numerous viewpoints can be distancing, the challenges of this intellectual puzzle propel the reader to the rather bizarre but compelling last two chapters. As Mitchell's Mr. Cavendish purports, "We all think we're in control of our own lives, but really they're pre-ghostwritten by forces around us." So how well does the thing read? Very well. Perhaps not revelatory, but this contemplative pleasure of a book is recommended for all public libraries. —Ann Kim
Library Journal

It is a thrill to read a piece of fiction this engrossing, challenging, urgent, and, ultimately, so very new. This book, which would be remarkable even if it weren't a first novel, was published last year in Great Britain to critical acclaim.... Reminiscent at times of DeLillo, Murakami, and science fiction, especially in its continual probing of what is real and what is not, this book remains very much its own thing: a novel of the twenty-first century. —Brian Kenney

An inordinately ambitious first novel, the work of a Westerner living in Japan, traces a chain of events that affect lives on several continents, explored in stories "ghostwritten" by other (in some cases, literally alien) intelligences than those of the people who experience them.
Kirkus Reviews

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