I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards, worrying about the possible endings of the stories that had been started. Maybe that’s why I’m a ghostwriter. The Endings have nothing to do with me. -From Ghostwritten, page 270-
David Mitchell’s debut novel – Ghostwritten – won the 1999 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for the best work of literature from a British author under the age of 35. After reading this complex, brilliantly crafted book, I can see why it won this prestigious award. I have come to expect a certain level of excellence from Mitchell having read his most recent novel Black Swan Green, as well as his 2004 masterpiece Cloud Atlas. Readers who have read other Mitchell works will be delighted to see some of the same characters re-appearing.
Ghostwritten is a series of linked stories narrated by nine different characters. The novel spans the globe from the streets of Okinawa, Tokyo and Hong Kong to the rural wastelands of Mongolia to the historical city of Petersburg and the Hermitage Museum to the urban beauty of London to the desolate Irish landscape of Clear Island and finally to the dark streets of New York. Along the way, the reader is treated to Mitchell’s pitch perfect prose, exposing our weaknesses and the power of human connectivity. The novel explores this idea of connectivity by demonstrating how each character is attached to the other, often without their knowledge, and how these associations impact the future. Another major theme of the novel is that of fate vs. chance.
Mitchell also leaves the reader to wonder about the validity of his story. Are the events really happening? Or are they possibilities? What is real and what is not? he asks. And what of the title of this novel? Ghostwriters are professionals paid to write stories officially credited to someone else. A single author (the ghostwriter) may pose as several different people. How reliable are the narrators? Are they in fact a single person, pulling together the threads of an imagined tale?
As with all Mitchell novels, this one will make the reader think. Beautifully crafted with fully imagined characters and events, Ghostwritten is a masterpiece of fiction.