A to Z Challenge: G is for “Ghostwritten”

GDuring the A to Z Challenge I’m writing about books that were important to me in some way, and the letter G is not for the ghostwriting business, but for a book titled after it… Though it’s not about ghostwriters, and by its end, the title reveals its meaning. But shhh! I’m not spoiling it.

I first heard of David Mitchell when his book, “number9dream” was released in Polish. It was set in Japan, so I got interested in it, but because of the odd transcription of the Japanese names, I couldn’t get into it, and finally gave up. Still, when the next book came out, I decided to give it a go. And it was one of the most interesting and thrilling reads.

“Ghostwritten” is not a typical novel, but rather a series of short stories, one per chapter, written from various points of views and various styles. Each has their own protagonist, each has their own flavor, and as they span across a century, at first they seem quite a random collection.

Then, page by page, the reader starts discovering small and seemingly unimportant details that connect all those stories in a careful web of dependencies. Not all of them are obvious at first, some are nothing more but mentions in passing, made during conversations, some are subtle cameo appearances of the characters from other stories… Some are to be discovered only two or three stories later. All show the author’s skill in putting a complex puzzle together.

The first Polish edition of "Ghostwritten", the one I own. The cover is a bit less pink in reality.
The first Polish edition of “Ghostwritten”, the one I own.
The cover is a bit less pink in reality.

Of course, “Ghostwritten” could be read with less attention to such details, and every single story in it would still carry enough weight, thought, and emotion, but the small discoveries made along the way and putting the bigger picture together, brings both satisfaction and appreciation for what the author did.

With Mitchell, we travel around the world and through time, through genres, and through aspects of human nature, and each piece of the journey is a literary feast. When I was leaving for Ireland, with my luggage limited, this was one of the three fiction books I brought over with me, and I never regretted my choice. During my first months, when I went through the difficult phase of settling in a new country, I’ve re-read this book many times, and each time it offered me more, each time I looked at Mitchell’s mosaic and saw another detail that previously escaped my attention.

And even though I haven’t touched the book in years, it was an obvious choice to take it with me to the States too. And as much as I’m curious to read “Ghostwritten” in its original language, I can’t seem to part with my precious Polish edition of the books. Funny enough, I’ve never got around to reading any other book by this author even though they’re all said to be excellent. And when I think about it, I wonder, whether it’s because I fear they’ll make “Ghostwritten” less special to me?

I might not be mad about literary and style experiments, yet “Ghostwritten” charmed me not only with the stories it told, but also with its style and structure. As if the author made a perfect mix of all the component that make a great book and a worthwhile read. I can think of few more books with so intricate structures (and some titles will be mentioned in other A to Z posts), but “Ghostwritten” was the first, and therefore most memorable.

And do you have books that you value not only for their story, but also how the story is told in terms of the unique style and the plot’s construction?

12 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: G is for “Ghostwritten””

  1. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but I’ve heard David Mitchell’s books are excellent. I need to add them to my “To Read” list.

    My favorite book is actually written in a fairly experimental style. It’s Leonard Cohen’s “Beautiful Losers,” and while I recommend it to everyone, it seems most people HATE this book. It’s set in a time of political and cultural upheaval in Montreal, and is still considered quite a difficult book today (it was once included in a Canadian radio contest that recommends books all Canadians should read, and was booted off in the first round because it was considered “too challenging” for the average Canadian). It’s funny, because the book itself is not particularly difficult to read (it doesn’t contain many vocabulary words you’ll have to look up, for instance), but it’s set up in three pieces, and the story line shifts around in time.

    1. Wow… To think a book that is written in any other way than “first person, one POV, one timeline” would be considered “challenging” is kind of sad, isn’t it? Shows how little people read.

  2. I’m a huge fan of David Mitchell and read “Cloud Atlas” first. Initially, I thought there were pages missing from my book … and then I caught on. His particular skill is in doing precisely what you describe above and I look the fact that they can be read and read and read, with more coming to light each time.

    1. I really need to get around to reading “Cloud Atlas”. My mistake was that I got it in English when I was less proficient with it, so the book overwhelmed me a bit. I need to get back to it now.

  3. I loved ‘Cloud Atlas’, ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet’ and ‘The Bone Clocks’ – but I’ve never read ‘Ghostwritten’. It sounds as if I should track it down – thank you for your informative, enjoyable article. I think you’d love ‘Cloud Atlas’ and ‘The Bone Clocks’ which has the same fractured narrative that you describe with ‘Ghostwritten’. And the book I particularly love for it’s unique style and the way it is constructed? ‘Among Others’ by Jo Walton.

    1. I remember your review of “The Bone Clocks” and I do want to read it. The problem I have with this book, the Polish publisher doing the Feast of Imagination (Uczta Wyobraźni) series released that book as a part of a series (and with a to-die-for cover), so I really, really, really want to buy the Polish edition, but that’ll have to wait for a while :(.

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