FIRSTLY: If the entirety of Ghostwritten had bristled with the same energy and momentum as the bottom half of the book (i.e., from “Holy Mountain” through to “Night Train”) then my review here would bristle with five stars. That said, I also do not believe that those subsequent chapters could have been nearly as successful without the supporting cast of Okinawa, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. (Jury is still out on the closer, Underground.)
David Mitchell delivers a very strong novel here. Stylistically, it is very mature — especially for a first novel from such a young author. He is able to bring themes, concepts, and phrases from one section into another apparently disjointed section fluidly, naturally and — most of the time — without that recurrence or repetition feeling like a gimmick. Mitchell is fucking with you (the reader), and you both know it, but the reason that you believe he is fucking with you is a little bit different than the reason he believes he is fucking with you. Meanwhile, the narrative has an agenda of its own. The comparisons to Haruki Murakami are justified but not all together accurate; Murakami blissfully and accidentally trips into an improbable parallel universe while Mitchell begrudgingly tries to inch his way back from a very possible tangential universe.
Now there were two thematic elements of the story that jumped out at me as worthy of commenting upon:
(1) Varying shades of apocalypse. Maybe my sensitivity to the subject is up because I’m also neck-deep in the John Joseph Adams collection Wastelands but there is a sense of penultimate destruction within each of the disjointed narratives in Ghostwritten. We start with a cult member trying to hurry along a very eschatological apocalypse and over the course of 400 more pages, we work our way through every flavor of personal or global threat we can stomach. The whimsical, speculative damnation of the “Night Train” component was clearly my favorite. (Though “Holy Mountain” blew my mind for the way tone and voice was used as the treatment for personal and national world-ending.)
(2) Have any other readers picked up on the sub-text that concerns conception and birth? Every one of these tales somehow works in a child (real or imagined, material or emblematic) that I presume is supposed to function as a cue for each story’s theme. But the children aren’t safe and sound. They’re adopted orphans, aborted fetuses, ghosts of infanticide, bastards, parents that can’t conceive, a precocious matricidal AI… I have not quite figured out this sub-text yet (hence the “to-re-read” shelving) but it’s definitely there. And it is haunting me.
Above review first appeared on GoodReads.com.