Four stars, or even four and a half stars cannot adequately define this novel, yet five stars appears overgenerous. Though Ghostwritten
is a brilliantly ambitious novel it is also a tangled and convoluted novel. If you as a reader disliked Cloud Atlas it is unlikely that you would find this novel any better. Where Cloud Atlas
seemed a more whole and structured novel this felt a little more twisted and in sections muddled knots of prose appeared to form. That said it shall receive five stars as a standing indication of the type of novel this was revealed as in the end.My perception of the author's work
David Mitchell appears to be, like most authors and readers, interested in stories. He appears particularly interested in the stories that bind together cultures, identities, individuals and events. He is also fascinated in challenging and analysing the various perceived realities of the world. In many ways this makes him a relatable author to myself, appealing to me through his novel's thematic values and his metalinguistic approach to writing. He reminds me, in how his characters reappear in various novels of Brandon Sanderson. However where Sanderson in Mistborn: The Final Empire and other books is interested in creating a shared fantasy universe of different worlds and magic systems David Mitchell seems to throw his characters into different books simply as part of playing around. He seems to genuinely enjoy playing with words and seeing what can be done. His work is experimental literary pulp
and often comes across as too sterilistically* pristine or in some ways smug. However I view this perceived smugness as more the personal fancy of an author playing about with ideas and words slightly beyond him in some measures. Certainly this novel lacks the same linking ability and refinement I enjoyed in Cloud Atlas
but the big ideas and interesting ideas are still present in this novel.RealityGhostwritten
had two main themes which I particularly found interesting. In following nine characters across nine stories with links between each Mitchell I believe attempts to discuss the idea of how realities intersect between individuals. By this I mean the ways in which my reality might interact and cut across the reality of another person. Mitchell links together each story in a way that while less structured than Cloud Atlas
ends up forming a unique loop of continuity. Lovers witnessed by one character may become key characters in the next story, an artificial intelligence may be seen as the god figure of a death cult and so on the links continue until you end the story in a manner not dissimilar to the film Memento (though I believe that film is far more fascinating than this book's plotted course). What I mean to say is that Mitchell starts with one line and almost ends virtually on the same line. In this way he questions how various characters intersect in life and how there is some kind of continuity despite differences in continuity. I believe that what Mitchell tries to do is challenge his readers to question their realities. As one of his characters notes: "Disbelieving the reality beneath your feet gives you licence to print your own."
The interesting thing that I reflected upon while reading this book was how many stories had gone into creating this one work. Originality in literature is a hotly debated topic*** particularly in genres which depend upon originality to develop such as fantasy and science fiction. My view on the subject is that originality develops through a unique mixture of the stories that have gone before. It is impossible for someone to have a story completely free of other stories. If those stories are mixed correctly there will be a unique narrative. That is what I love about childhood favourites such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia or even Peter Pan as I come back to them in young adulthood. I see that they build upon stories gone before in their own special way.
In the same way Ghostwritten
is a novel created out of the various stories Mitchell has no doubt devoured. I felt hints of Douglas Adams, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Franz Kafka to name a persona few and caught references to other writers such as Nabokov****, Tolstoy*****, Graham Greene******, Samuel Becket******* and perhaps even Dostoyevsky********. In this way the book serves as an argument in many ways as to the power of literature and the novel. Non-fiction teaches us many truths but so too can fiction by cognitive estrangement, taking those things, those realities we accept into a strange environment and forcing us to consider the truth of it all.
The characters of this novel (arcane terrorists, seductress art thieves, body snatching spirits, men struggling to get by, radio jockeys, vilified women, travellers, young lovers...) may not be typical. I for one am yet to find a parasitic body jumping spirit for instance. However in their atypicality there is an example of humanity, elements which by taking them out of the normal environment serves to reflect upon the seething mass of people who exist. They remind the reader that every person, no matter where they come from, is an individual amidst a crowd of different individuals, individuals whose stories are often lost - as ghostwriters
are lost behind the story of another individual. Conclusion
As the book states: "The act of memory is an act of ghostwriting."
Mitchell's overall unsubtle exaggeration in this book is that we are all ghostwriters for the world around us. However despite Mitchell's tendency to often 'lay it on thick' this is well worth reading. I highly recommend this novel particularly if you liked Cloud Atlas
and could navigate that book easily enough. David Mitchell may appear more profound than he is at times but its in the things he hints at for the reader personally that the beauty and magic of his writing exists.
*this should be a proper adjective
**p.401 for anyone who cares (i.e maybe me)
***I'm very glad everyone is so different since it means there are people to debate with
****Okay I promise to get around to reading him some time soon, suggestions?
********And yeah I have books to read :)