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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fearless feast of a book
Ambitious, complex, and intriguing, Mitchell's first novel grapples with the paradox of a small, vast world. His nine interlocking chapters (plus a tenth which circles back to the first) are narrated by a disparate lot from around the globe, connected sometimes by only a glimpse and a fleeting thought, sometimes by more fateful encounters. As the book proceeds, more...
Published on December 18, 2000 by Lynn Harnett

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81 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost great
About half-way through this book, I was starting to believe this would be a great book. I don't just mean good; I mean great. The author has a tremendous gift for narrative, with many descriptions and phrases that would inspire both awe and envy in anyone who appreciates the mechanics of writing. The characters are vividly drawn so that the reader cares about each one,...
Published on July 30, 2004 by Amazon Customer


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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fearless feast of a book, December 18, 2000
By 
This review is from: Ghostwritten: A Novel (Hardcover)
Ambitious, complex, and intriguing, Mitchell's first novel grapples with the paradox of a small, vast world. His nine interlocking chapters (plus a tenth which circles back to the first) are narrated by a disparate lot from around the globe, connected sometimes by only a glimpse and a fleeting thought, sometimes by more fateful encounters. As the book proceeds, more connections become apparent, most of them random.
It's an intriguing organization, best followed by reading the book in one sitting, so as to keep track of the various plot threads and people. However, at 426 pages, this is unlikely for most readers.
But Mitchell's novel is more than a philosophical play on fate and chance and the six degrees of separation that radiate from us in all directions. The novel is filled with real characters, some venal and pathetic, some appealing, a few remote, one repellant. The settings range from self-consciously contemporary Hong Kong and earnest, teeming Tokyo to a tight-knit island off the Irish coast, the Mongolian desert, a remote Chinese mountain, a late-night radio station in New York, the streets of London and the bleak underside of post-Soviet St. Petersburg.
One narrator is a bent lawyer haunted (literally) by the ghost of a little girl, a pawn to his own greed, trapped by his estranged wife, his rapacious Chinese maid and his high-powered, crooked employer. Another is a self-deluded Russian woman, trying to escape her life by a big score in stolen art. The book opens with the fervid ramblings of a Japanese cult fanatic, a terrorist who planted poison gas on a Tokyo subway, and closes with the same or similar narrator.
A young musician and writer in London, whose life is adrift, saves a stranger from being rundown by a taxi, drifts some more, then makes the big decision he's been wrestling with all along. A young jazz musician in Tokyo, also adrift, makes a leap for love. A brilliant physicist whose discoveries are used in the Gulf War flees home to Ireland but is forced to succumb to the strong arm of the American military.
Some chapters are more successful than others. Which these are, however, is a matter of taste. The writing soars energetically throughout but styles, moods, even genres vary. Mitchell employs ghosts, apocalyptic scenarios, sociopathic thugs both criminal and sanctioned, as well as ordinary longings, ambitions, loves and failures.
An old Chinese woman narrates my favorite chapter. Her long and eventful life is lived entirely around her tea shack on a rural mountain path leading to a Buddhist temple. Here she is raped by a warlord and abused and despised by her lazy father. The Japanese invasion comes to her mountain and then the Chinese Nationalists, the Communists and the cadres of the Cultural Revolution each in turn bring violence and destruction to her life and livelihood. And each time she rebuilds her shack. She finds solace and companionship in a speaking tree and grows wise in the ways of the world without ever venturing into it. Hers is a marvelous voice, sharp without being hard, sardonic but never jaded, full of life and wit and complexity.
Another favorite is the chapter that follows, in which a transmigrating spirit goes on a pilgrimage to discover its origin and meaning. The spirit moves from person to person by touch and crosses Mongolia in pursuit of a folktale, inhabiting a Western tourist, a suspicious old peasant woman, a shaman, a vicious killer and more. Exploring the human psyche, it struggles to do no harm but its own goal remains paramount. Delightfully strange.
As for flaws: some characters are less well developed than others and the apocalyptic elements are jarring and unconvincing. The penultimate chapter brings us to the brink of World War III which may have been brought on by a well-meaning artificial (possibly) intelligence with godlike access to our technology. The transition from explorations of human nature, connections and chance to a sci-fi parable is unconvincing at best.
But Mitchell writes with the confidence of an artist with no fear. He will try anything, no matter how fantastic or mundane. His writing switches from displays of virtuosity to sober meditation, his point-of-view from intimate exchange to global conspiracy.
An excellent, engaging book, sure to attract as much criticism as praise, which is by no means a bad thing.
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81 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost great, July 30, 2004
By 
Amazon Customer (Lexington, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
About half-way through this book, I was starting to believe this would be a great book. I don't just mean good; I mean great. The author has a tremendous gift for narrative, with many descriptions and phrases that would inspire both awe and envy in anyone who appreciates the mechanics of writing. The characters are vividly drawn so that the reader cares about each one, which is no mean feat considering the range of characters involved - including one who is impossible to like and one who's not even human. Best of all, the slow emergence of links between what at first seem totally unrelated storylines is done to perfection. I was in heaven.

Then I hit the last two chapters. Where I had come to expect magic, as all of the storylines finally converge, I got...what? Very suddenly, with only the most tenuous connection to the rest of the story, this non-point-of-view character with tremendous power appears, as though the author just read about "deus ex machina" and decided to give it a very literal interpretation. Then one of the characters who had actually drawn our sympathy earlier, who had been most central to the converging storylines, gets dispatched in an almost offhand way. Many of the connections established before are just left hanging, as though someone had punched a huge hole through the just-woven fabric of the story up to that point. I can almost see the author losing energy or interest, after the painstaking effort to craft the earlier chapters, and slapping the rest together just to be done with it. Maybe an overzealous editor was involved.

However you look at it, though, the ending can only disappoint. I have never seen such an immensely promising book take such a precipitous nosedive at the end. I would seriously recommend that readers read revel in the the marvelous though incomplete story up to that cutoff point, and then stop instead of ruining the experience by reading the rest.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than a Ghost, February 11, 2002
By 
This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
I did something with this book that I have never done before. I finished reading the last line of the book, closed it, took a long breath, and opened it right back up again to page one and began rereading. The only difference was for the second reading, I took copious notes to accurately map the story and the layers of people and places which make this book so wonderful. It was the only way to really absorb the minutiae of detail that collectively makes up the whole book.
I imagine many readers were turned off by the intensity and layering of the detail, but I thrived on it. For me, the denser, more intricate the storyline, the happier I am, and I must say this book made me happier than any other book that I have read in some time for that specific reason.
Each chapter is a story unto itself, and yet each story is tied to the others by layers of small detail. It was a stroke of genius on Mitchell's part to structure the book as he did. Chapter ten, the last chapter, detailed Quasar's act of terrorism in the Tokyo underground, but the action actually took place before the opening of chapter one. Quasar, the mentally unbalanced cult follower, experiences in his final moments on the train all the clues to the stories of the lives depicted in the previous chapters. This construction allowed Mitchell to tie together, in just a few paragraphs, all the loose ends that plagued each separate story. Very effective.
I could go one at length about the richness of the layered stories and how one life is unknowingly built on the basis of another, and how Mitchell helps the reader through constructive symbolism to understand the basis of human interaction and interdependence. Bat Segundo (ch. 9) plays Satoru's (ch. 2) tenor sax piece on his radio show, how both Neal Brose (ch. 3) and Roy (ch. 7) make a mess in the kitchen by using two coffee filters in their machines, Quasar (ch. 1) and Mo Muntervary (ch. 8) both describe the world as a sick zoo, and everyone felt the breath on the nape of their necks. It is the clever layering of such detail that propels the story forward, and occasionally backward. The introduction of the noncarpum (ch. 5) seemed initially to be the element to tie the stories, but it wasn't. It was the human interaction that kept the story active, not unlike real life.
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47 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, September 12, 2000
This review is from: Ghostwritten: A Novel (Hardcover)
GHOSTWRITTEN is a startling original debut novel set in places as disparate as Okinawa, Mongolia, and London, each locale and its attendant narrator adding another story to Mitchell's tapestry. This is new millennium globalism, where people are connected by the most tenuous threads as they inhabit the same world run by coincidence and fate. You'll find that many reviewers will be unable to summarize the plot of this book; instead, they will describe the characters. That's because the plot IS the characters - who they are and what they represent.
The rhythms of the prose are often staccato and simple, but there is a beauty to it, a sure truth to the words. I entered this fiction and emerged blinking in what seemed like sudden light. Sometimes Mitchell's inventiveness was simply too much to take in, and it struck me as forced, originality for originality's sake, but, all in all, he succeeds admirably.
I suspect David Mitchell's GHOSTWRITTEN will be one of those books people either love or hate; you'll react to it on a visceral, not an intellectual, level. Certainly people who like only traditionally told tales will be disappointed, as will lovers of naturalism and realism. One thing is clear: this book will be discussed by serious readers. You should read it so you can throw yourself into the fray.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much ado about nothing, September 3, 2002
By 
debvh (New Jersey) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
"Ghostwritten" isn't a novel in the usual sense; it is up to the reader to discern a narrative in the 9 chapters (plus a coda), each written from the perspective of a different character in locations spanning the globe. The first few chapters surprise and delight as the author reveals the diverse, yet interconnected worlds of his characters. By midway through the book, encountering a new protagonist, setting, and authorial "voice" every 50 pages or so became tiresome - especially because most of the stories aren't really good enough to stand on their own. As familiar details recurred, I struggled to remember where they had been seen before, trying to discern meaning in the threads connecting the tales.
I shouldn't have worked so hard. We are introduced early on to "His Serendipity;" the ghostwriter in another story plays in a band called "The Music of Chance;" later on, a physicist muses about quantum theory and unpredictability. The themes of chance, fate, and interconnectedness are presented in an increasingly heavy-handed manner as the book devolves into poorly executed genre fiction. The climax is mired in bizarrely slapstick science-fiction cliché - all the more unfortunate since world events have overtaken the author's vision. Some readers will find the New York-based story to be more upsetting than the author apparently intended, given the satiric tone of the chapter.
The writing itself was good throughout and nearly all the stories had their own beautifully observed moments. However, the whole enterprise collapses under its own weight and ends up reading more like a college writing assignment than a completed work. Still, I would look forward to reading a more conventional (or better-edited) book by the same author.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising but uneven first novel, January 4, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Ghostwritten: A Novel (Hardcover)
Can't join all the Hooray Henries praising this as a "masterwork": it's a good first work of fiction, and Mr. Mitchell shows considerable promise, but "Ghostwritten" is, at best, a half-realized effort.
The book is a series of 9 loosely but cleverly connected vignettes tracing the joys and travails of a wide variety of contemporary characters: a millennial cultist, a young Japanese jazz lover, a stressed-out ex-pat Brit working in a shady Hong Kong securities firm, an old Chinese woman living in a tea shack, a St. Petersburg kept-woman, a London slacker, an Irish scientist, a New York DJ. The tales, which are essentially complete in and of themselves, are each told in the first-person, and are written in a variety of styles ranging from the pseudo-Amy Tan of the Chinese narrator to the Nick Hornsby-ish musings of the young Londoner scraping out a living by ghostwriting and playing in a band. Characters and incidents central in one tale reappear in fleeting glimpses, snatches and references in the other tales, suggesting something like "It's a Small World After All" and that we're all interconnected in ways that we can't really begin to fathom.
If this sounds a little New Age-y it's because it is-one section of the novel, "Mongolia," even follows a disembodied spirit as it migrates from host-body to host-body trying to unravel the riddle of its own existence. This is either your cup of tea or it isn't...for my part I found it pretty hokey. Mitchell is a keen observer and has a terrific knack for simile: when he's treating something down-to-earth like backpackers meeting on a train, or waking up with a hangover in a strange bed, or the sound of a jazz saxophone, or visiting a loved one with Alzheimer's, or the synergy between a medical and moral crisis (in the case of the Hong Kong broker) he's very compelling and provokes smiles or grimaces of recognition. When the author is indulging in flights of metaphysical fancy, however, he's merely tedious and borderline pretentious.
It seems to me that Mitchell is a talented miniaturist trying, unsuccessfully, to be a whole lot more. The sections that are the most realistic-Okinawa, Tokyo, Hong Kong and London-are far and away the most successful in the book. When Mitchell (a British citizen living in Japan) tries to write from a geography or cultural consciousness he knows less well he is unconvincing and clumsy. "Holy Mountain," for instance, with its improbably out-of-touch peasant woman narrator, recycles every cliché about 20th century China, and has a number of inconsistencies, such as the narrator mistaking a microphone for a "magic silver mushroom," but in almost the same breath making an off-hand reference to a jack-hammer. Or the "Clear Island" section, which is one half lyrical paean to rural Ireland, one half silly Frederick Foresythe spy-on-the-lam-from-a-sinister-global-conspiracy piffle.
It is the St. Petersburg section, however, that is almost comically inept, rife with error. While some of these mistakes are easy enough to overlook-such as when he has two ostensibly Russian women introduce themselves using "Miss" and "Mrs." (forms of address for which there are no equivalents in Russian) and then shake hands (something Russian women would never do among themselves)-others, like having a female character called "Petrovich," are unlikely to be missed by anyone who has ever been to Russia or read a Russian novel. Admittedly, this just comes down to poor editing...the real problems with the section are much more fundamental: an extraordinarily cheesy plot, which asks us to believe that priceless works of art are being successfully smuggled out of the Hermitage using a floor polisher; and the demeaning and deeply stereotyped portrayal of all the Russian characters, as one-dimensional and sinister as James Bond villains.
In the end, unfortunately, the pulpier parts of the novel subsume the more serious and restrained parts, and the book ends in a serio-comic vision of the coming technological apocalypse that could have been lifted straight out of Arthur C. Clarke. I don't mean that as a compliment. Hopefully next time around Mr. Mitchell will play more to his strengths as a particularist and leave the Pynchonian post-modern globe-hopping to...well, to the inimitable Pynchon himself...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Ghostly Voice Whispering Visions from other Stories, December 23, 2005
This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
When I started reading this book, I was initially thrown and a bit puzzled by the fact that the chapters appeared to be separate narratives with no relationship to each other. Then slowly, and quite uncannily, a line or reference would trigger a sometimes subtle, sometimes acute memory from a previous chapter.

This kept me reading, and the references kept building in layers. They were often clever, surprising, funny, tender, or shocking. By the end of the book, I could see that what initially appeared fragmented, has an undercurrent cohesiveness that makes this experimental work both intriguing and enjoyable.

The characters are varied and often weird, but never uninteresting. They range from a delusional mass murderer, to an Australian girl reading War and Peace on a train, to a young music store manager with a crush on one of his customers, to and old woman who owns a tea-shack, to a money launderer, to a kind of viral intelligence that invades human minds, to a sentient satellite.

The settings too are wide-ranging (Okinawa, Tokyo, London, Mongolia, St Petersburg), as indicated by the place names that are used for chapter titles. Mitchell freely mixes gritty newsreel realism with elements of magic realism and science fiction.

This is an ambitious but successful novel well worth reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ambitious, accomplished first novel, May 1, 2005
This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
David Mitchell begins exploring the themes in "Ghostwritten" that he will later explore in "Cloud Atlas": identity, wanderlust, disorientation, and the need to know one's place in the world. This novel is actually a series of interconnected short stories (some more strongly connected than others) about characters who who are either dragged passively from place to place or are firmly rooted without the means to leave.

The need to tell one's story -- in fact, the need to HAVE a story to tell -- permeates the book. When I reached the conclusion, I felt an understanding on an emotional level rather than an intellectual one. I couldn't immediately explain "what it all means", but I felt an empathy with the characters.

Mitchell's work isn't easy to read if you need your books to be linear and have a clear through-line. But his amazing ability to shift between voices -- like no one else I've ever read -- is more than worth the time it takes to work through a book like this. He takes us from a Japanese cultist, a British businessman, a Russian goldigger, and others so smoothly and convincingly you'd almost think each section was written by different authors.

I read "Cloud Atlas" before reading "Ghostwritten", and I do believe the former is a more accomplished, rewarding book. But "Ghostwritten" is probably an eaiser read than "Cloud Atlas" (the shifts are less jarring), so if you're looking for a less challenging introduction to Mitchell, this is probably where you should start.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and Exciting First Novel, September 3, 2001
By 
This review is from: Ghostwritten: A Novel (Hardcover)
David Mitchell attempts a lot in this first novel, and for the most part he succeeds. This is a book best read twice, in order to pick up all the subtleties of synchronicity woven into it. Nine characters spread across the globe are all part of the same story, most without realizing it. Or are they? It's not clear, at times, whether these are reliable narrators, and the narrative itself calls into question the nature of ourselves and our actions. What's most unsettling, and becomes the part of the book that simultaneously succeeds and fails most dramatically, is the shift of tone from one chapter to the next--from light romance to melancholy ghost story to heist caper, from New Age road story to small-town charming to impending Armaggeddon. While showcasing Mitchell's range, this fragments the narrative more than it should, so that the tales seem to stand more apart than together. Still, Mitchell is a hell of a writer, with a gift for description and a lively imagination. This deserves to be read, and you deserve to read it.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing global village, October 25, 2000
By 
Brett Benner (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghostwritten: A Novel (Hardcover)
A doomsday cult member. A jazz freak in Toyko. A British lawyer in Hong Kong. An elderly woman working in a tea shack. A transmigrating spirit in Mongolia. An art thief in Russia. A musician in London. An Irish physicist. A DJ in Manhattan. David Mitchell brilliantly weaves these transglobal stories together by the tiniest of threads, making it feel like a high speed express train of thoughts and ideas. One of the characters state, "The human world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed." Each character(s) is so fully realized, so immediately compelling in their sometimes simple lives I found it hard to put the book down. In fact, I would've liked to read it in one sitting to benefit from the whole dramatic sweep of his narrative.
The book is not a light read, and it demands your attention, but it's so worth it. And don't be turned off if you don't like short stories. He weaves them together so well, you almost don't notice that one has ended and another's begun.
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Ghostwritten: A Novel
Ghostwritten: A Novel by David Mitchell (Hardcover - September 5, 2000)
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