Ken-ichi's Reviews > Ghostwritten

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
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Aug 25, 10

bookshelves: escape, snoot
Read in January, 2007

** spoiler alert ** Old review from 2007. I'd actually forgotten that I'd read it and picked up another copy! Think my UK edition got loaned out and never came back...

Another wonderful book, very similar to Cloud Atlas. Debate between fate and chance runs throughout, with the Biblical serpent spelling it out: "Why do things happen the way they do?" Like Cloud Atlas, certain things recur almost irrelevantly, with even less structure than CA, like the presence of camphor trees, coffee spilling out of an over-filled perc, mentions of comets and the phrase "New Earth." It's weird that DM not only reused some of these symbols in Cloud Atlas (the comet, for example), but he even reuses whole characters, like Tim Cavendish and Louisa Rey. Within a book these echos generate an impression of interwoven connection that is almost supernatural, an arcane logic behind the novel's microcosm, but I'm not sure what effect it has or is supposed to have between books. Given that Ghostwritten is so similar to Cloud Atlas, should they be considered as a pair? As warm-up and performance? As performance and encore? Hard to say.

It is easy to say that reading Mitchell is a joy, filling you with sensation, facts, admiration, maybe even inadequacy. I obsessed, laughed, thought, disagreed, even shed a tear or two. I can't recommend his books enough.

Oh, and here's an interesting essay he wrote on how living in Japan influenced his writing.

Words
febrile (adj.) feverish

Re-review in 2010

Back on a Mitchell kick after De Zoet. On re-reading, this book wasn't as consistently strong as some of his later books, with "Holy Mountain" and "Clear Island" towering over "Okinawa" and "Petersburg", and I definitely began forgetting the early stories as I approached the end, but these are microscopic quibbles. "Clear Island" had me completely riveted, keeping me sleepless not only in suspense but also in the profound desire to belong to a place like that. Great stuff.

The question of why things happen the way they do is explicitly broached in most of the stories, and expressed in various permutations of chance, will, fate, and desire. Who's will and who's desire is often a point of contention (Qasar's or the Guru's? The noncorpum or its host? The scientist or her creation?), as is the existence of free will. As with most of Mitchell's "points," he deals with these digressively, while ultimately taking what seems to be a moral stance: free will may not exist, but we should act as if it does. Satoru meets Tomoyo through chance, but chooses to follow her to Hong Kong. The noncorpum's existence is mysterious but it chooses to be corporeal. Marco willingly takes life as it comes, until he decides not to. Mo's bind is the result of larger forces, but she pilots a path through force of will. Her creation, it seems, is bound by the laws of its creator, but ultimately must choose how to reconcile their contradictions. Qasar, on the other hand, seems a slave to his insecurities. Neal and Margarita are victims of their own desire and egomania (thought Neal's demise is also a matter of chance or fate, outside his control). The woman on Holy Mountain is an exception. She doesn't have many choices in life, suffers greatly at the hands of fate, but survives to die happily.
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Reading Progress

08/09/2010 page 10
2.0%
08/18/2010 page 168
39.0% "There's so much in this book I didn't remember. Hence the re-read."
08/19/2010 page 199
47.0% "Mongolia was great."
08/24/2010 page 375
88.0% "Clear Island was amazing, as good as anything he's written. Now I want to live on a small island..."
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