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Ghostwritten (1999)

by David Mitchell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,7691142,817 (4.04)208
Winner of the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. A magnificent achievement and an engrossing experience, David Mitchell's first novel announced the arrival of one of the most exciting writers of the twenty-first century. An apocalyptic cult member carries out a gas attack on a rush-hour metro, but what links him to a jazz buff in downtown Tokyo? Or to a Mongolian gangster, a woman on a holy mountain who talks to a tree, and a late night New York DJ? Set at the fugitive edges of Asia and Europe, Ghostwritten weaves together a host of characters, their interconnected destinies determined by the inescapable forces of cause and effect.… (more)
  1. 30
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (derelicious)
  2. 00
    Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru (jayne_charles)
  3. 00
    The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings (stopsatgreen)
  4. 00
    Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes by Daniel Kehlmann (Tinwara)
    Tinwara: Kehlmann uses the same technique of overlapping and somehow interconnected stories. Coincidentally even the number of stories is the same!
  5. 12
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (derelicious)
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» See also 208 mentions

English (109)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  All languages (113)
Showing 1-5 of 109 (next | show all)
A quantum physicist passes the time on a long overnight flight calculating the odds that these particular three hundred sixty passengers would share it. She concludes they are long indeed. Yet at the end of the chapter centering on her, when she is coerced to return to a project she’d fled from, she realizes how the electrons, other subatomic matter, and the forces that hold them together are one.
That may be one of the pearls at the heart of this collection of interconnected stories. Each story focuses on one person, but characters from other stories pop up. Along with swans who turn into girls (and vice versa) and bats falling from the sky. And an approaching comet.
Whichever the main character, the stories are all narrated in the first person. I admired the way the author created a unique voice for each narrator.
The lives of these characters intersect across the globe, in Japan, Hong Kong, Petersburg, and others. It seemed a virtuoso performance until the author set part of one of the stories in Switzerland. In it, he refers to the mechanical figurines on the town clock in Zurich. The author may have been thinking of the Zytglogge in Bern. An earlier chapter had been set in Mongolia, where I’ve never been, and now I wondered how accurate that local color had been.
A petty point, you might say, and I’d grant that. It’s a nagging flaw in a book I was otherwise wowed by. It’s a virtuoso performance. The stories are cleverly plotted, with cross-references strewn like breadcrumbs on the path. The writing is crafted like lyrical poetry. All of this in a debut novel.
At the close of one episode, “Petersburg,” the narrator remarks: “None of this happened. None of this really happened.” My first reaction is that this was an obviously meta touch. After all, it’s a novel—of course, none of it happened (well, aside from the Tokyo subway sarin attack and a few other unpleasant events). Only later did I tie this to what I’ve previously concluded was that character’s massive ability to self-delude.
Another of the pearls in the book is that our technology has advanced beyond our ability to control it. The person who voices this insight is the quantum physicist, my favorite among the many characters. She is confident, though, that she has found a way to overcome that problem, somewhat like the imperatives Asimov formulated for robots. But, then, in the breathless crescendo that is the penultimate chapter, this turns out to have been an illusory hope.
This is David Mitchell’s debut novel, and it’s a masterpiece. I’m looking forward to reading more of his books. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Nov 18, 2022 |
Somewhat reminiscent of Cloud Atlas, in that it comprises interconnecting narratives (and also shares some characters with Cloud Atlas) and shares the theme of human interconnectedness. It is a less hopeful book than Cloud Atlas, leaving me feeling sad. Perhaps because I listened to the audiobook rather than read a printed copy, or perhaps because I couldn’t help comparing it to Cloud Atlas, which is one of my favorite books, but the pieces didn’t seem to fit together as beautifully and lyrically. But it’s still an excellent novel that is certainly worth reading, particularly if you liked Cloud Atlas. ( )
  Charon07 | Nov 8, 2022 |
This is David Mitchell’s 1st book, but I read it after 5 later ones. Ghostwritten has all the sparkle, talent and complexity of his later masterpieces, but I found it frustratingly hard to tie the many strands together. Especially, in the second half and the denouement. His writing doesn’t take the reader for granted, but demands our careful attention. Perhaps it’s just a characteristic of his craft not yet fully formed. Or maybe this is one book I need to read more than once. ( )
  PhilipJHunt | Oct 1, 2022 |
i'm landing somewhere between 2.5 and 4 stars and changing my rating with startling regularity. let's say 3.5, for sanity's sake. ( )
  J.Flux | Aug 13, 2022 |
In my book (ha! get it), it's hard to beat David Mitchell. Although falling into a similar step with his great Cloud Atlas, Mitchell's first book is much closer to the ground than said sweeping, panhistoric eyebrow-raiser. He treats themes like the ol' chance v. fate, materiality v. unseen force, and allegiance without cramming it down our throats; there is very little resolution, as well, which requires us, the readers, to come to our own damned conclusions, something I like very much. The intersections and line-blendings of characters and story lines are for the most part well done, but some do seem a little clanky (the Tea House lady and who/what the tree turns out to be, for instance). Each storyline does stand on its own as a fully imagined and well-populated world, and it will bear re- and re- reading. ( )
  MaryJeanPhillips | Jun 22, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 109 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Mitchellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mijn, Aad van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oldenburg, VolkerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pavlovská, LenkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
...En ik, die zegt zoveel meer te weten, is het niet mogelijk dat zelfs ik de ware drijfveer achter de drijfveer heb gemist?
Sommigen zeggen dat we die nooit zullen kennen en dat wij voor de goden zijn als de vliegen die door jongens op een zomerdag worden gedood, terwijl anderen zeggen dat zelfs de mus geen veer verliest die niet door Gods vinger weggeveegd is.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Voor John
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Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?
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Mama-San told me I was eighteen when I was born. That makes me old enough to be my father.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Winner of the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. A magnificent achievement and an engrossing experience, David Mitchell's first novel announced the arrival of one of the most exciting writers of the twenty-first century. An apocalyptic cult member carries out a gas attack on a rush-hour metro, but what links him to a jazz buff in downtown Tokyo? Or to a Mongolian gangster, a woman on a holy mountain who talks to a tree, and a late night New York DJ? Set at the fugitive edges of Asia and Europe, Ghostwritten weaves together a host of characters, their interconnected destinies determined by the inescapable forces of cause and effect.

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