Ghostwritten Paperback – Apr 20 2000
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"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 In the time one street guide is produced, it's already become out of date.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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Top Customer Reviews
What I liked most about this book was that it defied definition. It was easy to read but wasn't a book that you can breeze through passively. You have to pay attention. If you don't you miss out on a lot. This story is shaped ike nine short stories set in various locations around the world. Each location tells the story of one character unrelated to the other characters in the stories, but yet somehow overlapping. It is this overlapping that holds the story together and makes it so fun to read. Two of my favorite were "London" and "Night Train", possibly because I "sensed" more of the author in the words.
Of course this might also be things that turn some readers off, especially those that can't tolerate ambiguity. Ghostwritten doesn't try to be something more than it isn't. It maintains a modest and enduring tone throughout the novel, unveiling here and there little bits and pieces about the overall big picture.
I am impressed by Mitchell's style and vision. This was not an easy book to pull-off. That he did so as his first book inspires me and fills me with awe. The characters were well-crafted. Although he has a large cast of characters, none of them feel canned. All of them were distinct, and you really feel as if they were real characters living the full lives that is told in the stories.
The title is brilliant and I loved the literal and post modern playful use of the free-ranging consciousness or "ghost" writer to draw us into the theme of human interconnectedness. Some of the plots are very Hollywood pitch and facile, but this playfulness is part of a post modern relationship with readers. The plots are extraordinary and beautifully evoked in Mitchell's easy use of language that mimics, lives and proselytises. Some reviewers have found the 'six degrees' theme rather pointless in the text - the links don't seem to take us anywhere engaging past idle recognition of intersections of fate. I feel that these intersections produce different kinds of meanings to the 'six degrees' theme. To me they draw attention to the timeless themes of human connection and that individualism is greatly flawed as a Western aspiration etc and I think the book is deeply political in its offering of these snapshots of human identity. The chapters add up to an intelligent, heavily freighted and mesmerising tome.
The most exciting thing for me reading the book is that Mitchell respects his readers. I like where he is taking us and can't wait for the next book.
Most recent customer reviews
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... Read morePublished on Sept. 18 2013 by SogeumHoochoo
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... Read morePublished on Nov. 25 2012 by Rick Patterson
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 morePublished on Feb. 24 2002 by David J Roche
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 morePublished on Feb. 11 2002 by Kathy Turner Meyer
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 morePublished on Feb. 5 2002 by A. C. Seligman
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