I have had David Mitchell’s 1999 debut novel Ghostwritten on my to-read pile for far too long. I bought it several years ago, shortly after finishing his wonderful Cloud Atlas, which is darn near a masterpiece in my opinion, but too many other books were in front of it on my list. At some point though, I grew impatient and may have manipulated the composition of the pile itself to cause Ghostwritten to float to the top.
Much like Cloud Atlas – or perhaps I should say that Cloud Atlas is much like Ghostwritten in its construction – Mitchell’s debut is presented as a series of stories, each centered on a different character and with each character’s story somehow linked to the story of one or more of the others in the book. These little Easter eggs scattered throughout the novel added an extra layer of entertainment and they engaged me as a reader more than if Ghostwritten was just a short story collection. If a character shows up for two pages and then leaves, I know I need to keep that character in mind because they might show up in someone else’s story several chapters later, or they might even be the primary character of a later chapter. I love this! What I find even more fun is that there are characters from other Mitchell novels in Ghostwritten and characters from Ghostwritten in other Mitchell novels. This establishes all of his novels in the same world and while some enemies of fun would call this a gimmick, I call it a feature and an entertaining one at that. I enjoy tracing these character appearances from one novel to the next. I am tempted to purchase every David Mitchell novel and read them in sequential order and then create a timeline. Oo, what if I set up a bulletin board with photos and pins and colored string to keep track of it all? Yay, project! *giddy dance*
Ghostwritten’s chapters do form a connected narrative, but each is an excellent story on its own. This is good because, even as I find delight in them, I often found myself questioning the purpose of these connections. Why does Mitchell structure his novel in this way with a new primary character for each chapter? Is the book about chance and randomness? Is he making a statement about how we are all connected in some kind of universal Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon kind of way? Even having finished my reading of the book, I am not certain I completely understand it. I admit that makes me feel like a bit of a fool, especially considering how much I enjoyed the novel. I like the pretty colors! What I do know is that David Mitchell’s novel is a series of wonderful stories of humankind. In each of his characters, diverse in gender, age, environment, morality, and vocation, I found something to which I could relate or empathize.
I feel like I owe Ghostwritten a second read at some point. Mitchell is a talented author so I feel like my lack of ultimate understanding is likely my fault and not his, especially considering I did most of my reading just before bed after a long work day. Such an exhausted state of mind and body is not conducive to full comprehension of a clever story. For now though, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed Ghostwritten and look forward to finding out which of its characters show up in David Mitchell’s next novel.