Ghostwitten is the debut novel by David Mitchell and is a true gem. This is the third novel I’ve read by Mitchell, the previous two being the fantastic Cloud Atlas and Number9dream. It’s tough for me to pick between Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas as my favorite. Both weave a narrative through multiple short stories that interconnect in a Robert Altman kind of way. Cloud Atlas is a bit more complex and subtle while Ghostwritten is far more raw and angry.
Mitchell has many gifts as a writer, the first and foremost being a natural storyteller. Whether writing about love, theft, quantum physics or Mongolian culture, Mitchell can rivet your attention to the page. He propels you through the narrative, plunges and dunks you with an amazing descriptive capability and empathy for his characters. I never felt cheated by any one of the stories or characters in Ghostwritten, which is amazing given there are ten distinct stories within the novel. One would think a few of these would be less satisfying and that Mitchell might have had passion for just 7 of the 10.
That is not the case with Ghostwritten. Passion is not a problem for Mitchell. And I mourned the passing of each story because I wanted more. Each did reach a satisfying conclusion, but you wanted to inhabit that world, that reality, for a bit longer, to experience more of what Mitchell had created. The odd thing is that Ghostwritten is not a ‘happy’ piece of writing, but instead an expose on the hideous things people do to each other. I say this is odd because it doesn’t seem depressing. The actions are frightening in sections, heartbreaking in others but the tone lyrical and ethereal, much like a ghost watching those that remain alive.
I was also taken with many turns of phrase by Mitchell, as seen in the July Quotation Contest. Here are the others I would have liked to have used if they weren’t already easily available on the Internet.
“Nothing often poses in men as wisdom.”
“Memories are their own descendants masquerading as the ancestors of the present.”
“The human world is made of stories, not people.”
The last quote is apt given the composition of Ghostwritten. I’m partial to the more science-fiction themed stories of ‘Mongolia’ and ‘Night Train’. However, ‘Holy Mountain’ was a piercing and painful look at China’s evolution and ‘Petersburg’ a taut and powerful crime drama written from a unique point-of-view of a character unaware of the reality ahead of her. It’s akin to being in a movie theater and wanting to scream, ‘Don’t go out into the woods alone, that’s where the creature is!’
There’s nothing more for me to say other than to go and read Ghostwritten.