Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

This is my review of David Mitchell's Ghostwritten.

The book
Ghostwritten is David Mitchell’s debut novel and it is a very David Mitchell-novel. He quite often writes short stories that he links together somehow. This one has nine stories and they are sort of vaguely connected to each other. Some only with like a phone call, some with more of a substantial connection. It follows a cult member responsible for the mustard gas attacks on the Japanese subway, one is a jazz-enthusiast in Tokyo, one is a crooked British lawyer in Hong Kong, one is an elderly woman running a tea shack in China, one is a transmigrating spirit in Mongolia, a gallery attendant in Russia, a musician and ghostwriter in London, an Irish physicist, and a late night radio DJ in Manhattan.

I liked it. I feel like it showed that it was Mitchell’s first novel. He has as I mentioned done the same type of story telling later, in both Cloud Atlas and the Bone Clocks. I feel like he does it more successfully in the later books, some of the connections in this novel were a bit more tenuous, although not all of them, some were very deep and really well fleshed out. I feel like he might have been experimenting slightly and wasn’t completely sure of how to do it properly. They become more and more connected throughout the novel though, which I liked.

Mitchell has this thing where he puts characters from one book as a minor character into another book. In this book adult Neal Brose is a corrupt lawyer, and in Black Swan Green young Neal Brose is one of the kids sort of bullying the main character. Mitchell also mentions a book editor who is a main character in Cloud Atlas. Again I am sort of struck by that and I wonder how he plans it out. It can’t just be that he just picks a random name, he must have planned these things out pretty seriously. I really like it, and I like it when I notice them. I like when they mention a name, and I’m like, hang on, he’s in Cloud Atlas. I’m a total nerd by the way, if that wasn’t clear.

I like the way he structures his stories, and how different the voices are. He writes completely different people and as they should, their voices are different and they are just, wow. It’s really impressive, and he must really sketch out his novels and ideas. He also sort of writes in different genres, which is very cool.

I think the Mongolian spirit flying around was my favourite story. It was so weird and out there. I also enjoyed the first story, which is the cult member who has carried out the saran gas attack on the Tokyo underground. He was just so creepy and so weird. I don’t know how cult members are, but it felt like he managed to really put himself into the head of a cult member. The arrogance, and the hatred he has for other people, and his absolute assurance that he has done the right thing by killing all these people, was so disturbing. He was so awful. Gah.

I also really liked the way Mitchell wrote the gallery attendant in the Russian story. I can’t remember her name. She was so naïve and so dumb, and she was so annoyingly sure of her shitty boyfriend. Like, he might be a violent, controlling, psychotic drug addict, but he loves her, so he is perfect. She infuriated me so much. It was great.


I really enjoyed it, it wasn’t my favourite Mitchell book. It’s very him, but he has really grown since then, and it was interesting to see where he started the way he writes.