From the Publisher
“A brave new book for a brave new world—fueled by a brilliant imagination and buoyed by beautifully descriptive writing.”—USA Today
“[David Mitchell] has a gift for fiction’s natural pleasures—intricate surprises, insidiously woven narratives, ingenious voices.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Elegantly composed, gracefully plotted and full of humor.”—Los Angeles Times
“Unlike so many of the chroniclers of the twenty-first-century pastiche—an industry dominated by ad men and feature-writers, not novelists—Mitchell has set out to craft actual characters, not archetypes. The result is a dazzling piece of work.”—The Washington Post
“Mitchell deftly sketches each character to such a compelling extent that you become totally immersed. . . . His nine characters and their random but fateful interactions provide a playful, suspenseful foray into our ever-shrinking world.”—Entertainment Weekly
“An intricately assembled Fabergé egg of a novel, full of sly and sometimes beautiful surprises. . . . In an era in which much literary fiction is characterized by unearned ironies and glib cynicism, it’s hard not to be impressed by the humanism that animates Mitchell’s book.”—New York
“Gripping and innovative. . . . [Ghostwritten serves] to illustrate the strange interconnectivity of the modern world and the improvisatory nature of fate.”—The New York Times
“A daring novel, uniquely structured and just as uniquely compelling.”—The Denver Post
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Like the nearly invisible thread that binds the pages of a book together, David Mitchell's extraordinarily inventive debut tethers the lives of nine strangers to each other with common ideology, characters, and names. The distance between these strangers is not metaphorical-Mitchell takes readers to nine disparate countries: from Okinawa to Mongolia, from Russia to London, and beyond. He begins with Quasar, a follower of a bizarre doomsday cult, who has just completed a mission to release poisonous nerve gas in the Tokyo subway. Fleeing to the island of Okinawa, Quasar is forced to run still further to deflect suspicion, and must listen quietly from his place of exile as he hears the sorry fate of his fellow cult members. The next tale introduces a teenage jazz aficionado on the cusp of adulthood, working in a Tokyo record shop and falling in love with a young girl from Hong Kong. The third chapter tells of a British businessman living in Hong Kong, fed up with his bourgeois life, who spies the lovebirds featured in the previous tale seated in a fast-food outlet. Each of the six following stories continues in like fashion, effortlessly conveying similar attitudes of disaffection and xenophobia, each of the protagonists facing a turning point in their lives.
Mitchell's prose is lean and economical, but certainly not devoid of emotion. A keen observer of people and place, Mitchell's debut is an impressive one.
Ghostwritten is a brave new book for a brave new worldone encompassing globalism and grunge rock, folk tales, talking trees and terrorism. Far-out Cyberstuff. David Mitchell's breathlessly sprawling debut novel is inhabited by a large cast of spirits and unsettled souls who transmigrate faster than a bond trader reacts to a Greenspan blink. all of this intensely imaginative material is packaged as nine tales told by nine narrators from around the world. What a long, strange trip it is!
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nine disparate but interconnected tales (and a short coda) in Mitchell's impressive debut examine 21st-century notions of community, coincidence, causality, catastrophe and fate. Each episode in this mammoth sociocultural tapestry 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. As the plot progresses, however, the connections between narrators become more complex, richly imaginative and thematically suggestive. Key symbols and metaphors repeat, mutating provocatively in new contexts. Innocuous descriptions accrue a subtle but probing irony through repetition; images of wild birds taking flight, luminous night skies and even bloody head wounds implicate and involve Mitchell's characters in an exquisitely choreographed dance of coincidence, connection and fluid, intuitive meanings. 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, ghostwriter and ne'er-do-well; a brilliant but imperiled Irish physicist; and a loud-mouthed late-night radio-show host who unwittingly brushes with a global cyber-catastrophe. Already a sensation on its publication in England, Mitchell's wildly variegated story can be abstruse and elusive in its larger themes, but the gorgeous prose and vibrant, original construction make this an accomplishment not to be missed. 5-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Gleefully self-referential, slyly philosophical, subtly postmodern, Mitchell's debut novel consists of nine intertwining tales and the people who move within and among them. Spanning the globe--from teeming Tokyo to the isolated Holy Mountain, from the idyllic Clear Island to Old Man London--the characters also run the gamut: criminal, professional, genius, provincial, fanatic. The novel evades the reader's aim to discern a moral, instead exploring the motions of consciousness through various lives in nine distinct and elegant voices. Although the numerous viewpoints can be distancing, the challenges of this intellectual puzzle propel the reader to the rather bizarre but compelling last two chapters. As Mitchell's Mr. Cavendish purports, "We all think we're in control of our own lives, but really they're pre-ghostwritten by forces around us." So how well does the thing read? Very well. Perhaps not revelatory, but this contemplative pleasure of a book is recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]--Ann Kim, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
[An] amazing first novel...Mr. Mitchell pulls it off brilliantly...a book that wants to be read twice.
New York Observer
...intricately assembled Fabergé egg of a novel, full of sly and sometimes beautiful surprises...[Mitchell's] book is worth a dozen of the morally anorexic first novels that regularly come down the pipe.
New York Magazine
In the ghost world of quantum physics, coincidence seems natural, so I'm not amazed at receiving--independently, mind you--two highly praised European novels explicitly influenced by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Along with these fathers of quantum theory, David Mitchell channels other dead European geniuses: Alan Turing, forerunner of cognitive science; Carl Jung, analyst of archetypes; Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, inventors of polyphonal fiction.
Ghostwritten was shortlisted last year for the Guardian Prize, a new competitor to Britain's prestigious Booker Prize. Now published in the United States, the novel seems as American as the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and Paul Auster. Like these writers, Mitchell is a globe-orbiting satellite camera, able to see half of everything at once and able to peer into minds that don't use English.
Ghostwritten opens and closes in the head of a Japanese man who has dropped the poison gas sarin in a Tokyo subway to cleanse the world for spiritual rebirth. In between these terrorist bookends are eight sections, averaging fifty pages in length, about eight characters in, respectively, Tokyo, Hong Kong, a Chinese village, Mongolia, St. Petersburg, Russia, London, an Irish village and New York City. While the progress of these sections moves against the earth's rotation, time flows forward, so a major character in an early part can become a minor character affecting events in a later part. Or, in quantum fashion, vice versa.
In place of plot, Mitchell engineers many degrees of separation and connection, sometimes with a literal ghost or "noncorpum that transmigrates from one live person to another and 'writes'" --or dictates--characters' actions, mostly in China and Mongolia, where the proprietor of a teahouse near a Buddhist shrine and a housewife in Ulan Bator believe in daimons.
More believable to this reader is Mitchell's ghost in the multinational machine: money. Because a young money-laundering lawyer in Hong Kong unexpectedly dies, art thieves in St. Petersburg are killed. The intermediate causes--phantom cash transfers and the like--are invisible but real. When an Irish physicist tries to run away from a profitable high-tech company that depends on her brain, she is hunted from Hong Kong to Ireland by government spooks. At novel's end, her "Quancog" invention (quantum cognition in hardware form) and the Japanese terrorist's "Arupadhata" (pure soul) compete for planetary power on a late-night New York City radio call-in show of which one "Bat" Segundo is host. Though hyperbolic and apocalyptic, this duel between science and spirit plausibly emerges from the mostly realistic sections preceding it.
Like a literal ghostwriter, Mitchell conceals his attitude toward the voices he ventriloquizes. All the sections are in first person. Some are vivid character sketches--a teen-age clerk in a Tokyo CD shop, the rustic family of the Irish scientist. Other, conventionally plotted sections rely on stereotypes--a greedy English lawyer, a Russian femme fatale, even a bumbling London ghostwriter.
The thirty-one-year-old author's strengths and, I believe, interests lie less in people and plot than in setting and system. Mitchell gives very careful attention to earthly locales that have not yet become ghost towns, destroyed by multinational uniformity. If Mitchell has not been to Ulan Bator, he, like Pynchon and DeLillo in their Asias, makes us believe he has taken the long journey by train. During the ride, I also believe, Mitchell spent lots of time thinking about parallels between Buddhist cosmology and quantum mechanics, analogs between cognitive science's pandemonium inside our brains and the noisy wired world outside our heads.
One of Mitchell's characters says stories use people "to tell themselves." Like Mitchell's blind Irish musician, Japanese jazz aficionado and American disc jockey, the author is more an arranger of stories than a composer. Because the stories seem found, Ghostwritten--with its sometimes loose, sometimes tight connections--feels like a more appropriate model of reality than plotted realism offers. Like a walking tour of the world, Ghostwritten can be slow going page by page but a glory to behold from afar, a chaotic order, an elegant swirl.
An inordinately ambitious first novel, the work of a Westerner living in Japan, traces a chain of events that affect lives on several continents, explored in stories "ghostwritten" by other (in some cases, literally alien) intelligences than those of the people who experience them.
Read an Excerpt
Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?
I swung around. The tinted glass doors hissed shut. The light was bright. Synthetic ferns swayed, very gently, up and down the empty lobby. Nothing moved in the sun-smacked car park. Beyond, a row of palm trees and the deep sky.
I swung around. The receptionist was still waiting, offering me her pen, her smile as ironed as her uniform. I saw the pores beneath her make-up, and heard the silence beneath the muzak, and the rushing beneath the silence.
"Kobayashi. I called from the airport, a while ago. To reserve a room." Pinpricking in the palms of my hands. Little thorns.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Kobayashi. . ." So what if she didn't believe me? The unclean check into hotels under false names all the time. To fornicate, with strangers. "If I could just ask you to fill in your name and address here, sir ... and your profession?"
I showed her my bandaged hand. "I'm afraid you'll have to fill the form in for me."
"Certainly ... My, how did that happen?"
"A door closed on it."
She winced sympathetically, and turned the form around. "Your profession, Mr. Kobayashi?"
"I'm a software engineer. I develop products for different companies, on a contract-by-contract basis."
She frowned. I wasn't fitting her form. "I see, no company as such, then . . ."
"Let's use the company I'm working with at the moment." Easy. The Fellowship's technology division will arrange corroboration.
"Fine, Mr. Kobayashi...Welcome to the Okinawa Garden Hotel."
"Are you visiting Okinawa for business or for sightseeing, Mr. Kobayashi?"
Was there something quizzical in her smile? Suspicion in her face?
"Partly business, partly sightseeing. "I deployed my alpha control voice.
"We hope you have a pleasant stay. Here's your key, sir. Room 307. If we can assist you in any way, please don't hesitate to ask."
You? Assist me? "Thank you."
Unclean, unclean. These Okinawans never were pureblooded Japanese. Different, weaker ancestors. As I turned away and walked toward the elevator, my ESP told me she was smirking to herself. She wouldn't be smirking if she knew the caliber of mind she was dealing with. Her time will come, like all the others.
Not a soul was stirring in the giant hotel. Hushed corridors stretched into the noontime distance, empty as catacombs.
There's no air in my room. Use of air-conditioning is prohibited in Sanctuary because it impairs alpha waves. To show solidarity with my brothers and sisters, I switched it off and opened the windows. The curtains I keep drawn. You never know whose telephoto lens might be looking in.
I looked out into the eye of the sun. Naha is a cheap, ugly city. But for the background band of Pacific aquamarine this city could be any tentacle of Tokyo. The usual red-and-white TV transmitter, broadcasting the government's subliminal command frequencies. The usual department stores rising like windowless temples, dazzling the unclean into compliance. The urban districts, the factories pumping out poison into the air and water supplies. Fridges abandoned in wastegrounds of lesser trash. What grafted-on pieces of ugliness are their cities! I imagine the New Earth sweeping this festering mess away like a mighty broom, returning the land to its virginal state. Then the Fellowship will create something we deserve, which the survivors will cherish for eternity.
I cleaned myself and examined my face in the bathroom mirror. You are one such survivor, Quasar. Strong features, highlighting my samurai legacy. Ridged eyebrows. A hawkish nose. Quasar, the harbinger. His Serendipity had chosen my name prophetically. My role was to pulse at the edge of the universe of the faithful, alone in the darkness. An outrider. A herald.
The extractor fan droned. Somewhere beyond its drone I could hear a little girl, sobbing. So much sadness in this twisted world. I began shaving.
I awoke early, not remembering where I was for the first few moments. Jigsaw pieces of my dream lay dropped around. There had been Mr. Ikeda, my home-room teacher from high school, and two or three of the worst bullies. My biological father had appeared too. I remembered that day when the bullies had got everyone in the class to pretend that I was dead. By afternoon it had spread through the whole school. Everyone pretended they couldn't see me. When I spoke they pretended they couldn't hear me. Mr. Ikeda got to hear about it, and as a society-appointed guardian of young minds what did he take it upon himself to do? The bastard conducted a funeral service for me during the final home-room hour. He'd even lit some incense, and led the chanting, and everything.
Before His Serendipity lit my life I was defenseless. I sobbed and screamed at them to stop, but nobody saw me. I was dead.
After awakening, I found I was tormented with an erection. Too much gamma wave interference. I meditated under my picture of His Serendipity until it had subsided.
If it's funerals the unclean want, they shall have them aplenty, during the White Nights, before His Serendipity rises to claim his kingdom. Funerals with no mourners.
I walked down the Kokusai Dori, the main street of the city, doubling back and weaving off to lose anybody who was trailing me. Unfortunately my alpha potential is still too weak to achieve invisibility, so I have to shake trailers the old-fashioned way. When I was sure nobody was following me I ducked into a games center and placed a call from a telephone booth. Public call boxes are much less likely to be bugged.
"Brother, this is Quasar. Please connect me with the minister of defense."
"Certainly, brother. The minister is expecting you. Permit me to congratulate you on the success of our recent mission."
I was put on hold for a couple of moments. The minister of defense is a favorite of His Serendipity's. He graduated from the Imperial University. He was a judge, before hearing the call of His Serendipity. He is a born leader. "Ah, Quasar. Excellent. You are in good health?"
"On His Serendipity's service, Minister, I always enjoy good health. I have overcome my allergies, and for nine months I haven't suffered from-"
"We are delighted with you. His Serendipity is mightily impressed with the depth of your faith. Mightily impressed. He is meditating on your anima now, in his retreat. On yours alone, for fortification and enrichment."
"Minister! I beg you to convey my deepest thanks."
"Gladly. You've earned it. This is a war against the unclean myriad, and in this war acts of courage do not go unacknowledged, nor unrewarded. Now. You'll be wondering how long you are to remain away from your family. The Cabinet believes seven days will suffice."
"I understand, Minister." I bowed deeply.
"Have you seen the television reports?"
"I avoid the lies of the unclean state, Minister. For what snake would willingly heed the voice of the snakecharmer? Even though I am away from Sanctuary, His Serendipity's instructions are inscribed in my heart. I imagine we have caused a stir among the hornets."
"Indeed. They are talking about terrorism, showing the unclean foaming at the mouth. The poor animals are almost to be pitied-almost. As His Serendipity predicted, they are missing the point that it is their sins being visited on their heads. Be proud, Quasar, that you were one of the chosen ministers of justice! The 39th Sacred Revelation: Pride in one's sacrifice is not a sin but selfrespect. Keep a low profile, nonetheless. Blend in. Do a little sightseeing. I trust your expense account will suffice?"
"The treasurer was most generous, and my needs are simple."
"Very good. Contact us again in seven days. The Fellowship looks forward to welcoming our beloved brother home."
I returned to the hotel for my midday cleaning and meditation. I ate some crackers, seaweed snacks and cashew nuts, and drank green tea from a vending machine outside my room. When I went out again after lunch the unclean receptionist gave me a map, and I chose a tourist spot to visit.
The Japanese naval headquarters was set in a scrubby park at the top of a hill overlooking Naha, to the north. During the war it had been so well hidden that it took the invading Americans three weeks after they had seized Okinawa to stumble across it. The Americans are not a very bright race. They miss the obvious. Their embassy had the effrontery to deny His Serendipity a residence visa ten years ago. Now, of course, His Serendipity can come and go where he pleases using subspace conversion techniques. He has visited the White House several times, unhindered.
I paid for my ticket and went down the steps. The dim coolness welcomed me. A pipe somewhere was dripping. There was one more surprise waiting for the American invaders. In order to die an honorable death, the full contingent of four thousand men had taken their own lives. Twenty days previously.
Honor. What does this frothy, idol-riddled world of the unclean know of honor? Walking through the tunnels I stroked the walls with my fingertips. I stroked the scars on the wall, made by the grenade blasts and the picks that the soldiers had used to dig their stronghold, and I felt true kinship with them. The same kinship I feel at Sanctuary. With my enhanced alpha quotient, I was picking up on their anima residue. I wandered the tunnels until I lost track of the time.
As I left that memorial to nobility a coachload of tourists arrived. I took one look at them, with their cameras and potato-chip packets and their stupid Kansai expressions and their limbless minds with less alpha capacity than a housefly, and I wished that I had one more phial of the cleansing fluid left, so that I could lob it down the stairs after them and lock them in. They would be cleansed in the same way that the money-blinded of Tokyo had been cleansed. It would have appeased the souls of the young soldiers who had died for their beliefs decades ago, as I had been ready to do only seventy-two hours ago. They were betrayed by the puppet governments that despoiled our land after the war. As have we all been betrayed by a society evolving into markets for Disney and McDonald's. All that sacrifice, to build what? To build an unsinkable aircraft carrier for the United States.
But I had no phials left, and so I had to endure those unclean, chattering, defecating, spawning, defiling, cretins. Literally, they made me gasp for air.
I walked back down the hill under the palm trees.