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Ghostwritten [Paperback]

David Mitchell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 20 2000
An apocalyptic cult member carries out a gas attack on a rush-hour metro, but what connects him to a jazz buff in Tokyo? A woman on a holy mountain talks to a tree - and the tree talks back - unaware of the effect the financial irregularities of a burnt-out lawyer will have on her life. Add to this a Mongolian gangster, a redundant English spy in Petersburg with a knack for forging masterpieces, a despondent 'zookeeper', a nuclear scientist, a ghostwriter, a ghost, and a late night New York DJ whose hard-boiled scepticism has been his undoing. All of them have tales to tell, and all must play their part as they are caught up in the inescapable forces of cause and effect.

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From Amazon

"What is real and what is not?" David Mitchell's Ghostwritten: A Novel in Nine Parts plays with precisely this question throughout its elaborately compartmentalized narrative. (That there are 10 chapters in this 9-part invention is just one more aspect of the author's mysterious schema.) With its multitude of voices and globe-girdling locations--Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Petersburg, London--this first novel offers readers a vertiginous, sometimes seductive, display of persona and place.

At the heart of Mitchell's book is the global extension of the postmodern city, and the networks (cultural, technological, phantasmagoric) to which it gives rise. A metropolis like Tokyo is quite literally beyond our comprehension:

Twenty million people live and work in Tokyo. It's so big that nobody really knows where it stops. It's long since filled up the plain, and now it's creeping up the mountains to the west and reclaiming land from the bay in the east. The city never stops rewriting itself. In the time one street guide is produced, it's already become out of date. It's a tall city, and a deep one, as well as a spread-out one.
At this level, urban sprawl becomes an epistemological condition. On one hand it leads to a Japanese death cult, purging the "unclean" from the city's subway with nerve gas. And on the other, it produces a certain splintering of the human personality. "I'm this person, I'm this person, I'm that person, I'm that person too," chants Neal, the narrator of the book's second part. "No wonder it's all such a ... mess." He's talking about his life as a Hong Kong trader, a "man of departments, compartments, apartments." But he might also be describing the experience of reading Ghostwritten. At once loquacious and knowing, leisurely and frantic, Mitchell offers a huge, but fragmentary, portmanteau. And while he's labored diligently to solder together the many parts--the aching bodies, the reality police, the impossibly complex machinery of contemporary life--his novel, too, may suffer from an excess of split personality. --Vicky Lebeau --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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. 5-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Setting the Bar High Sept. 18 2013
Format:Paperback
This story, or rather these connected novellas, was such a wonderful reading experience. I was so surprised an author could jump cultures and time periods with such ease and I'd never heard of Mitchell before. (I first read "Ghostwritten" in 2002, before Mitchell became an international sensation). With each subsequent short story, I couldn't wait to see how Mitchell would tie it to the previous one. I've promised to name a future pet either 'Quasar' or 'His Serendipity' in honor of that fantastic opening story! This book was a sign of the amazing things to come from a world-class storyteller.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a first novel! Nov. 25 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a mind-bending novel, a thought-provoking series of vignettes (are actually novellas in themselves) that hook into each other to present a stunning vision of the contemporary world. Okay, not quite contemporary because some of the details are already out of date, like the passing mention of the World Trade Center in "Night Train," but that's just quibbling; the ideas are absolutely immediately now. How Mitchell manages to combing history with geography with politics with metaphysics with psychology with morality...it's a beautiful novel in that it pushes the audience to listen with ever greater focus and attention and, believe it or not, responsibility for how we respond when we close the last page.
If he had only written "Holy Mountain," David Mitchell would have created a wonderful addition to the world of literature, but he's done so much more here. Read it. Listen. Absorb. Respond.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book rocks. Nov. 21 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Few people can successfully balance and interweave so many varied perspectives, but Mitchell does so with grace and beauty. His prose is rich but not overwrought, his characters are fully realized, and his story says something important about an ever shrinking world. This is the kind of book Americans need to read more often to remind them that we are not alone on this planet, and that human dignity and foibles are universal. Check out his other book Number9dream as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars surprise April 25 2002
By Celia
Format:Paperback
Very intriguing, very original, very fresh ideas. I was totally taken by surprise by this firstnovelwriter. He seems to be so familiar with so many different realities and , what is stranger, he makes us feel at home in a ger in Mongolia or as a cult-controlled terrorist, or a transmigrating spirit or a guide at the Hermitage... I am looking forward for his next book. I wonder where he will take me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm jealous... Jan. 18 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I'm absolutely jealous that Mitchell can write so well. He has written a book that I will not forget. Each chapter is more or less a short story centering on one character. However, each character seems to be connected in one way or another. Now, critics have said that this novel is very much the same as writings of a famous Japanese writer (a role model, evidently, to Mitchell), however, unless you are a graduate in World lit. or from Japan, I don't think you would know any different.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Where Kindle shines April 18 2011
By Sears Braithwaite (of Bullard) TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I originally got this book, years ago, at the library and was bowled over by it.

I decided to re-read it and opted for the Kindle edition. (I don't own a Kindle yet, but use Kindle for Mac and iPod.) It was a good idea. In digital format you can do searches and easily follow up the many cross-connections in the text. And there are tons of these. Ghostwritten is a true reader's book: it begs to be read over and over, to reveal its complexity. In that way it's a lot like a Nabokov (who Mitchell mentions a few times, obviously with deep respect).

I also like the way on Kindle you can make provisional highlights and notes, deleting or editing them as you want. Nice.

But still love to mark up a real book. And the way paper feels and smells. Oh to have it both ways.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling debut by an exciting new writer May 26 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
David Mitchell's "Ghostwritten" is a dazzling debut by an exciting new writer. "Number 9 Dream" may have garnered alot more attention for its Booker Prize nomination but after leafing through them, "Ghostwritten" seemed the more accessible of the two, so I went for it and wow....what an amazing read it was. I loved nearly every moment of it. Mitchell takes us on a magical mystery tour through major cities and other exotic locations in Asia (Okinawa, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mongolia) and Europe (St Petersburg, London, Ireland) and uses the short story medium to showcase current phenomena and burning issues of the day, from the horrors of terrorism, nuclear war risks, fraud and corporate greed, to eastern mysticism, political blackmail, and love and infidelity. The individual stories are presented as a series of self contained vignettes which are bound together by a common sensibility running through them. Occasionally, a familiar character may resurface without warning only to vanish just as suddenly. The fleeting reappearance of characters from past episodes makes them feel like passing ghosts in the night. The stories are multi-genreal and though different as chalk and cheese, share a sense of the unexpected. My own personal favourites are the ones set in St Petersburg, Hong Kong and Ireland. Only the last story disappoints. It's bizarre and difficult to follow and a downbeat ending to an otherwise spectacular collage of scenes from our modern age. David Mitchell is such a talented contemporary writer I reckon we will hear alot more from him in the future. For a first effort, "Ghostwritten" is an incredibly mature, assured and imaginative piece of work. One of my best reads this season.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An impressive debut
I really liked this book. It was hard to put down for a variety of reasons and it is hard to believe that this was Mitchell's first novel. Read more
Published on May 24 2002 by Justin Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars treating readers with respect
Why has there been so little hype about this amazing book? Where are all the prizes and fanfare? It's just stunning in its evocation of the modern world, and seems to me very... Read more
Published on April 1 2002 by Susanne M Jeffery
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Your Time..
This book is Mitchell's first novel. That said it is cohesive & tightly written. The book is a series of linked first person narratives told by nine characters. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2002 by David J. Roche
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than a Ghost
I did something with this book that I have never done before. I finished reading the last line of the book, closed it, took a long breath, and opened it right back up again to... Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2002 by Kathy Turner Meyer
5.0 out of 5 stars If you don't mind going in circles
I loved the six-degrees-of-separation complexity of this book! It's amazing the ground it covers. And you know you're missing stuff. Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2002 by A. C. Seligman
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Fragmentation
As the book was fragmented up into the individual stories, I thought I should write my review in the same manner, as the 9 stories are so completely different:
Okinawa: The... Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2002 by Michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Structure, Terrific Writing
An absolutely superb book that immediately entered David Mitchell onto my list of top ten writers.
The true beauty of the book is in the writing. Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2002 by Shannon A.
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