Wednesday, 4 July 2001

David Mitchell: Ghostwritten (1999)

Edition: Sceptre, 1999
Review number: 859

From the start, the narrative of a cult member directly responsible for a gas attack on the Tokyo subway, it is clear that Ghostwritten is an excellent and unusual novel. The characterisation - of distinctly varied individuals - and backgrounds are very well done. They draw the reader in, and pave the way for some of the more complex aims that the novel has.

The whole thing only comes together at the end, but on the way is a great deal of thought provoking entertainment. The novel is a sequence of barely related narratives - the links are things like the fanatic of the first part making a phone call to the Tokyo jazz record shop in which the central character of the first part works, thinking it is a number set up by the cult to help members in peril - spanning the globe and bringing in all kinds of ideas, from Mongolian folk stories to quantum mechanics.

The characters at the centre of the narratives include a ghost-writer and a ghost writing in the first person, but the title also refers to other concerns of the novel, such as the way in which things around us are built up from the ghostly world of quantum physics. Ghostwritten is both extremely clever and extremely well written; it is exciting to read and in places very funny. When you realise that it is a debut novel, the achievement becomes even more amazing.

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