January 12, 2015

Review: Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

Title: Ghostwritten

Author: David Mitchell

Publisher: Sceptre

Date of Publication: 2000 (first published in 1999)

Number of Pages: 448

Find it at: Book Depository


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.


Ghostwritten is one of those books that lingers in your mind long after you have finished reading it. It's made of nine stories, placed in different places in the world. The narrators are so different people, with so varying pasts and futures that on the surface there is no connection between them. But until the very last page you know that what brings them together is chance. Indeed, this is a novel based upon the idea of chance. 

The stories that reveal this fact are the ones taking place in London and in Clear Island. Or as Dr. Mo Muntervary says "However far away they are: between John and me, between Okinawa and Clear Island or between the Milky Way and Andromeda: if one of the particles is spinning down, then you know that the other is spinning up". The stories and the events that connect them are just like particles. The narrators do not know each other, most of the times their paths don't even cross, but the way they intervene is vital for the future of the other. The Secret Deposit Agency of the doomsday cult doesn's exit, Quasar calls a record store without him knowing and in the other end of the line Satoru delays just enough to meet the girl he is obsessed with.

Ghostwritten has a unique structure, although it's a bit risky. Each narrator has his own personality and David Mitchell managed to create nine different stories that do not feel unconnected, yet at the same time are random enough to feel that indeed it was chance that moved them. This structure will appear again in Cloud Atlas, although in that novel it feels different.

After reading Ghostwritten I feel richer and I feel like I will be thinking about it for a long time. It's one of the books that grow on you. My advice is...

Read it already!


  1. Right now I'm still at the London story. If I could describe it with a word is "weird". The truth is that Mitchell's writing is quite unique. Each story is different, like completely different from each other. At the beginning of each story, it's like an anthology of different writers, stories around, as you pointed out, chances and the kind of life you get depending on your choices. It is really an interesting and challenging book.

  2. A challenging read indeed and as I dive into the rest of Mitchell's work I can assure you that it becomes even more challenging. And reading those novels chronologically enables me to observe the changes and evolution of Mitchell as a writer.


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