I started my experience of David Mitchell (writer, not comedian) with ‘Cloud Atlas’, a book so beautiful I longed to hear it, sense it, experience it. And now, I continue my experience with perhaps the more metaphysical book, ‘Ghostwritten’ – another collection of interconnected stories, but one truly more haunting in its realism.
The thing that intrigued me most about this book was how real it was; there was nothing about it that couldn’t happen, even the subtle underplayed terror of the ‘Night Train’ chapter. It starts with Quasar; I have never before seen how easy it can be for people to be radicalised. It’s an odd perspective to explore, but I am genuinely glad Mitchell did – how many times have we considered the perspective of the terrorist? None, people would argue, because they are terrorists and we inherently despise them. I’m not arguing against that, but what I do think is that we’ve never looked over that fence through fear, controversy, a lack of reason to be curious about something that might seem so clean cut. But that’s why it works – Mitchell is taking something so horrendous and making it accessible, piquing our curiosity without trying to manipulate or serve an agenda; we’re just shown how it happens. It’s fascinating, unendingly so…
…Until we go on to the Forbes, Caspar, the non-corpora, Mo, Bat Segundo…all of them! There was no letting up in this book. Moving from the classical story of mountains and faith, to more divisive issues such as communism and war, to the modernity of living in a fast-paced society – I would struggle to name an issue that wasn’t dealt with. It would be near-impossible to find a favourite, as it is for the Zookeeper to correlate the laws of being. Perhaps the first story of Quasar and the non-corpora segment were the ones that lasted with me the longest; I’ve discussed Quasar, but what the latter highlighted for me was the unknowability of the world, one with a million possibilities and only a handful of answers. It was resonating and soul-searching in the most beautiful way, a style David Mitchell owns.
What really fascinates me is that this isn’t a collection of short stories, not in the traditional sense. It’s more than that; it’s stories interwoven in their very fabric of being, and the subtlety and unexplained nature of the links is reflective of the laws of coincidence that govern our lives. The nice little touches, like Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish getting cameo roles, were the flourishes to a wonderful exploration of what it means to be human between the past, the present and the future. I cannot wait to read more of Mitchell’s masterpieces – they don’t just weave stories, they affect how you think, and that’s the rel magic of Mitchell’s writing.