Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell
9/10, a sprawling lovely tapestry that presages “Cloud Atlas”
I’ve made little secret of my admiration for “Cloud Atlas,” Mitchell’s award-winning novel. “Ghostwritten” was his first, and in it you can see the elements he later wove more successfully into “Cloud Atlas”: the global setting with specific and eloquently described locations; distinct and wonderful character voices; a unifying theme rather than an overarching plot; a rather dramatic conclusion.
But “Ghostwritten” is not as complete a book as “Cloud Atlas,” lacking depth in many of its component parts. It spans the globe rather than time, traveling from Okinawa to Tokyo, Hong Kong, China, Mongolia, St. Petersburg, London, Ireland, and New York. In “Cloud Atlas,” the stories were linked with sometimes-thin devices; here, too, the linking feels forced at times, the more so because it’s not always clear what the stories have to do with each other. They all share a theme of power and brutality, like the stories in “Cloud Atlas,” but here Mitchell takes the theme in a decidedly different direction.
In some cases, the protagonists of the stories are the ones with power; in other cases they believe they have power; in some cases they are merely victims. But in all cases, Mitchell displays the marvelous gift for voice and description that made “Cloud Atlas” stand out to me, and even if some segments dragged a little, I never felt bored, never wanted to put the book down.
It’s not a quick read, but it’s a worthwhile one. As I’ve said in the past, if you want to learn about character voice, there are few people you could pick up lessons from better qualified than David Mitchell. So far, none of his books have disappointed, and if you’ve finished “Cloud Atlas” and are looking for something to remind you of it (complete with recurring characters such as Luisa Rey), pick up “Ghostwritten.”