Thursday, 5 July 2007

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell was his debut novel in published in 1999 and so over shadowed by his second book Cloud Atlas that I had no idea that he had written an earlier book. We start the story in Japan in the aftermath of the cult subway poisoning and see these events from the perspective of the cult killer. We then move through nine disparate but interconnected tales exploring notions of community, coincidence, causality, catastrophe and fate.

Each episode 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.

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, ghost-writer and ne'er-do-well; a brilliant but imperilled Irish physicist; and a loud-mouthed late-night radio-show host who unwittingly brushes with a global cyber-catastrophe.

As the plot progresses, however, the connections between narrators become more complex, richly imaginative and thematically suggestive. A pattern emerges in which chance events ripple around the world and through time to end in ways that one of the characters had always hoped for.

The prose is clear and the shift in genres acts as the motor to drive you through the story in the place of more traditional character or plot development.

I would highly recommend this book not as the herald of one yet to come but a good read in its own right.

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