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by David Mitchell £6.99
Sceptre Books
Reviewed by Sam North

Tales from Okinawa, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Holy Mountain, Mongolia, St.Petersburg, London, Clear Island, Night Train, Underground Petersburg

‘ I am going to tell you a secret. Everything is about wanting. Everything. Things happen because of people wanting. Watch closely, and you’ll see what I mean. But like I said, I’m not a political woman. The things you think of, sitting here.’

It’s probable that Ghostwritten, the first published work by David Mitchell would not have existed unless Haruki Murakami had proved that there is an audience for surreal, magic realism novels set in the Far East. Indeed, the first and second stories in this shining collection of stories owe a great debt to Japanese writers and Murakami in particular. It is as if he has synthesised many of them and passed them back in a new translation.

I am not taking anything away from David Mitchell, I love this book. I particularly enjoyed the Holy Mountain story of the woman born of a terrible rape whose destiny it is to run the tea house on the holy mountain and watch all of China’s modern history pass her by. This leads so well to the Mongolia story and a parasitic host that is searching for the meaning of existence. These are wonderful stories, but it does feel as though Murakami has stood on his shoulders and guided his pen. For readers who have not read Japanese fiction in translation, David Mitchell will appear to be fresh and electrifying and the power of his vision and characterisation is all his own. There is a story of Mo, the scientist trying to escape her fate by hiding in Ireland with her son and blind husband. This is unique, confusing, enthralling, an excellent comment on power, the Gulf War and the responsibilities of science.

Of course these stories are separate, short fictions. But like a novel, each chapter has a trace of a character from the last threaded through it and one keeps wanting this book to be just that, a novel, and it is a little frustrating to lose these wonderful characters so quickly.

Ghostwritten is a wonderful debut work, without doubt one of the best you will read. Better yet, David Mitchell makes history and an alien culture current and alive, the book is painless, accessible and agony to put down. It will be exceedingly interesting to see what he produces next.

© Sam North

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