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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Robertson Davies
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Ghostwritten - David Mitchell

This is a hard book to rate because, let's be honest, it's David Mitchell: that's an automatic 5-star rating there. But knowing that it's David Mitchell, I find this book a little lacking. It's his first novel; it's not perfect. Despite its imperfections, however, it still destroys most of its competition. I certainly couldn't have written it. So it deserves all five stars.

If you've read only one Mitchell novel, it's likely you've read his third, Cloud Atlas. Ghostwritten is Cloud Atlas, Junior. It is Cloud Atlas taking its first steps, burying its face in a birthday cake, making it through its first day of school, playing at the park, kissing the neighbor girl, surviving its first day in junior high, learning to drive, and attending prom with the girl with a comet-shaped birthmark. Cloud Atlas is everything Ghostwritten hoped to become. But it was Mitchell's first and, as such, he tried to cram a lot in here. Maybe that's just David Mitchell—he does try to fit much into all of his stories—but here it feels a bit forced at times. It’s all about interconnectedness, but sometime the connections are a little too flimsy. Sometimes the style Mitchell employs to tell his story is strained. Sometimes the narrative voice is a little too shaky. And once—dare I even say it—Mitchell switches verb tense for an entire section for no reason. It’s almost like he just… made a mistake.

But putting all that behind us, Ghostwritten is a brilliant novel. It’s intelligent, thought-provoking, and fun. Though not as grand as Cloud Atlas, it utilizes the same variety in place, method, and voice. And best of all, it connects us to Mitchell’s other works—the Cavendishes, Luisa Rey, Neal Brose, and a certain birthmark all make an appearance. It’s an ambitious work from a very ambitious author. Ironically, I’d say my favorite episode from this novel is the least ambitious, that being “Tokyo”; it was interesting and full of heart without trying as hard as the other stories.

I really like David Mitchell. I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite living author because I think there are other writers who can capture my heart and mind without gimmicks—which is exactly what Mitchell employs in his works, albeit with exceptional skill—but his works certainly keep me more riveted than any other writer does. I look forward to the next.