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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 links him to a jazz buff in downtown Tokyo? Or to a Mongolian gangster, a woman on a holy mountain who talks to a tree, and a late night New York DJ? Set at the fugitive edges of Asia and Europe, Ghostwritten weaves together a host of characters, their interconnected destinies determined by the inescapable forces of cause and effect. A magnificent achievement and an engrossing experience, David Mitchell's first novel announced the arrival of one of the most exciting writers of the twenty-first century.

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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 In the time one street guide is produced, it's already become out of date.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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
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 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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling debut by an exciting new writer May 25 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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4.0 out of 5 stars An impressive debut May 24 2002
Format:Paperback
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. By the time I reached the middle I was already keen on reading every book this author has and will publish.

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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars treating readers with respect April 1 2002
Format:Paperback
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 prescient about the nature of terrorism; the covert power struggles over use of technology (explored in chapter eight); the individual floundering against unwieldy hegemonic forces and the ever present and affirming power of love.
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Setting the Bar High
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 more
Published 11 months ago by SogeumHoochoo
5.0 out of 5 stars What a first novel!
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 more
Published 21 months ago by Rick Patterson
5.0 out of 5 stars Where Kindle shines
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. Read more
Published on April 18 2011 by Sears Braithwaite (of Bullard)
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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