When I say that this is the David Mitchell who has just announced he will publish his latest work of fiction in a series of tweets – adding up to 6000 words – you know this isn’t likely to be an ordinary novel:
Ghostwritten is not the first I’ve read and reviewed by this clever and inventive writer. Here is a link to a previous review:
Ghostwritten is really 9 or 10 short stories, strung together by a series of coincidences which link each narrative voice to the previous narrator, or to a character in their story. In that sense it is similar to other stories by Mitchell: I criticised Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns for lacking a coherent centre or focus, and that criticism could possibly apply here.
Nevertheless Mitchell is a brilliant writer and conjures up some amazing scenes and interesting characters in this book which takes us on a tour of the world and shows us a range of characters – young Chinese lovers, an Irish scientist, an expat British banker struggling with a crisis, his Chinese mistress, gangsters in Russia, and China in the period of Wild Swans: war with Japan, revolution, Chairman Mao. The stories are vibrant, exciting and well written. The book is full of interest.
If there is a link between these stories it’s in the interconnectedness of human lives – the way we each see the same people differently, the way we affect each other. In the penultimate section there is some cod pseudo scientific philosophy that focuses on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principles – a kind of link to this theme of random interconnectedness – and the whole is topped and tailed by sections featuring the Japanese cult that detonated nerve gas in the Tokyo underground:
Not a conventional read – but very enjoyable if you like your reading to be offbeat and a little weird.