Tuesday, 8 October 2013
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Ghostwritten, and ghostridden and by a ghost, ridden.
I have no idea how to talk about what I want to talk about without referring to specifics in this book. I'm not sure how spoiler-ish they may be, but you have been warned.
This is my second David Mitchell, and I like it almost as much as the first one I read, which was Cloud Atlas, and absolutely blew my socks off. I think Cloud Atlas is a more masterful and audacious use of the same technique that you can see developing in Ghostwritten, but I enjoyed it in its developing stages here quite a lot.
Initially, I was skeptical of the claim that this was a "novel in nine parts," as they seemed to be discrete stories, with occasional references to the preceding chapters, through incidence and coincidence. But as the stories continued, they start to pull together, to somehow knit into a whole, even though most of the characters never met, or if they did, never realized the importance of the other stories to their own.
This is a book full of life, and humanity, and beautiful writing, and intriguing ideas, and glimpses of the unknown and improbable. It switches genres and countries, transcends humanities, and in the end, resolves.
And that is what keeps this from being five stars for me. That, and that it isn't quite Cloud Atlas. I'm not sure about the ending. I'm not saying it isn't a good and logical, if shocking, ending. I'm saying I'm personally not particularly enamoured with a book so in love with humanity that ends with its end.
It's the second story I've read or heard in the last week that ends with the unexpected extinction of humanity by a larger, implacable, inexorable force. (The first was a John Varley short story.) While it was an ending that seized me and took me by surprise, it also overshadowed the entire previous 400 pages, and I loved those 400 pages. I feel like I'm struggling to remember all the things I enjoyed about the book, without having them completely drowned underneath all the emotions that the ending provoked.
That's what happens with a loss, I know. Initially, the end obscures all the times before.
But I realize I haven't really spoken in any specifics about the book, or the stories that make it up. But how can I tie together and make coherent a book that combines stories about a Japanese cultist responsible for a subway attack, a jazz-loving Japanese teenager, a shady English financier in Hong Kong, the life of a woman who owns a tea house on the side of the Holy Mountain through the tumultuous events in the 20th century in China, the travels of a noncorporeal entity that lives in human hosts, a Russian art theft ring, a penniless womanizing drummer and ghostwriter in England, an Irish expert in quantum cognition, and a New York late night talk radio host who gets yearly calls from a mysterious listener?
Except to say that although I couldn't tell you exactly what binds these stories together, I am absolutely, positively convinced that they are part of a whole. And that they were utterly engrossing to read, and provided constant delight.
I'm equally sure this isn't for everyone. Like many of the books I love, it requires a high tolerance of ambiguity, and a willingness to simply go along for a ride with no idea as to how it will end. So many books are predictable. This one is not.