Friday, May 22, 2015
Review: "Ghostwritten" by David Mitchell
Ghostwritten, the debut novel of David Mitchell, someone who’d go on to become one of the powerhouses of world literature, is a novel of astounding ideas in the hands of someone who doesn’t really have the skills to handle such backbreaking ideas. My love for David Mitchell came late. I read both Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and while I found both novels about as unique and genre-defying as you can get, they each left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t until I read Number9Dream that I truly understood Mitchell’s talents for the weird, grand and emotional. And after reading The Bone Clocks last year, easily one of my favorite novels so far this decade, I recognize his work as among the best being put out today, even if this novel is painfully subpar. Its setup is very similar to Cloud Atlas, in that it tells a disparate group of stories connected in odd ways that go beyond simple human interaction, and in the process, melding different styles of storytelling to create a tapestry of human experience. It works like a less competent version of Cloud Atlas, which is a book I feel, is more stunt than novel, so this book has a lot going against it. Its first few sections are fantastic, dealing with an intelligent member of a religious cult assigned to set off a poison gas in a Tokyo Subway, a lonely record store clerk, also in Tokyo and a disgraced business man who finds himself stranded in Hong Kong. These sections feel very Murakami-esque, and the clues in each of them are delightful. But the sections afterwards struggle to balance the narratives with the games Mitchell is playing with the readers, and the clues in each, like references to the book’s title as well as work as varied as the books of Paul Auster and the music of The Smiths, are merely cool curiosities in book that only hints at the writer’s astounding talents.