A gallery attendant at the Hermitage. A young jazz buff in Tokyo. A crooked British lawyer in Hong Kong. A disc jockey in Manhattan. A physicist in Ireland. An elderly woman running a tea shack in rural China. A cult-controlled terrorist in Okinawa. A musician in London. A transmigrating spirit in Mongolia. What is the common thread of coincidence or destiny that connects the lives of these nine souls in nine far-flung countries, stretching across the globe from east to west? What pattern do their linked fates form through time and space?
A writer of pyrotechnic virtuosity and profound compassion, a mind to which nothing human is alien, David Mitchell spins genres, cultures, and ideas like gossamer threads around and through these nine linked stories. Many forces bind these lives, but at root all involve the same universal longing for connection and transcendence, an axis of commonality that leads in two directions--to creation and to destruction. In the end, as lives converge with a fearful symmetry, Ghostwritten comes full circle, to a point at which a familiar idea--that whether the planet is vast or small is merely a matter of perspective--strikes home with the force of a new revelation. It marks the debut of a writer of astonishing gifts.
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.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 08, 2001
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Excerpt from Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
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.