So I read A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010) by David Mitchell which I really liked. Then moved on to Cloud Atlas (2004), which had been a big thing especially after the film came out, which I thought was good in parts but took about 300 pages before it made any sense.
But I like Mitchell’s style so I moved on to Ghostwritten.
The act of memory is an act of ghostwriting.
Ghostwritten (1999) is a lot like Cloud Atlas in the sense that it is lots of little stories that weave together, but the narrative flows better than Cloud Atlas. In Cloud Atlas we seemed to jump from prose, to dairy, to letters, with ‘real’ characters and ‘fictional’ ones weirdly related. In Ghostwritten, although all the characters voices are very different (Mitchell sometimes seems like he’s showing off his ability to write for different characters in different styles) they are first person tales.
Seriously? You want me to explain the plot? I think the best way to approach these books is to go with the flow and let it wash over you but…
The stories start in Asia; Hong Kong, China, and Mongolia which is one of the things I like about Mitchell’s work as he doesn’t just stick to a Western-centric story. There is a rich financier having an affair with his maid, an old woman selling tea at the foot of a sacred mountain, and a young couple who share an appreciation for jazz.
The most malicious god is the god of the counted chicken.
The story moves to St Petersburg and, actually much of the book centres on post cold war politics, then to London. Some of the stories weave together obviously by sharing characters, while other’s only seem connected after reading the noncorpi’s tale; a spirit with the ability to pass from person to person.
Much of Mitchell’s work seems to acknowledge the crappy things men do to women which is nice but a lot of the characters are thoroughly unpleasant as a results; cheating, drinking, hitting their girlfriends etc.
A weapon men use against women is the refusal to take them seriously.
So with some of the characters spending any time with them can be trying, but with others you just start to get into their story when it moves on to someone else.
I feel like Mitchell has figured it out though; the biggest problem I’ve always had with writing is that I just get bored with what I’m doing and more onto something else. But when he gets bored he can move onto another character! It also amused me slightly that I recognised some of the minor characters from Cloud Atlas- so clearly he decided to revisit them.
I liked this book. I think his work takes a little bit of ‘getting into’ but he is a very talented writer. I am sure that my seal of approval means more to him than him Booker Prize shortlisting and John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
Verdict: A good read, not a lazy summer read perhaps but put in a little more effort and get a little more out.