“I am going to tell you a secret. Everything is about wanting. Everything. Things happen because of people wanting. Watch closely and you’ll see.”
The first David Mitchell book I read was Cloud Atlas, and in that, I found one of my favourite books of all time. I was eager to read more of Mitchell’s work, though I felt confident nothing would match up to the brilliance of Cloud Atlas. In a sense I was right, but Ghostwritten is still a great book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
It is like Cloud Atlas in many ways – a collection of several stories about seemingly disconnected characters that slowly begin to intertwine. I love this style of writing; subtle connections that the reader almost misses, with the slow realisation that all is not what it seems, as the characters stories suddenly rush towards each other. Because there are so many different characters it is hard to pick a favourite, but I particularly liked the old woman who runs a tea shack in China and the British financier laundering money in Hong Kong – they are both so different and yet so engaging in different ways. And, in typical Mitchell style, the tables are turned when the reader suddenly realises that the next narrator is not actually human – a thinking non entity searching for a human host in Mongolia. What are they all looking for? What aspects of their lives are shared? The only way to know is to keep reading.
“The human world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed.”
This was Mitchell’s first novel, and to me it is a perfect precursor to Cloud Atlas, as it is complex and challenging and deals with big questions about humanity and the way we live that anyone around the world can relate to, no matter who they are. There are elements of science fiction here, tucked away in a few corners, particularly at the end, but if you think that might put you off, don’t let it. Its not typical sci fi – it is so much more. It will certainly take more that one reading to fully appreciate all of the little hidden details that further cement the connections between the characters. I definitely feel I missed a few things, but this doesn’t detract from the story. Far from it – it enriches the story the second time around. I relish the thought of going back and looking for them.
Ghostwritten is one of those books that convinces the reader it is about one thing, but then, in the space of a couple of pages, something will happen to change your perspective of the story entirely. It’s difficult to describe, though this line from the back of the book is a good attempt at doing so without giving too much away: Like the book’s one non-human narrator, Mitchell latches onto his host characters and invades their lives with parasitic precision, making Ghostwritten a sprawling and brilliant literary relief map of the modern world. You can only read it for yourself to really find out.
“We all think we’re in control of our own lives, but really they’re pre ghostwritten by forces around us.”