I first heard of David Mitchell in high school from my AP Literature teacher, who recommended Cloud Atlas (Which is pretty high on my all-time favorite books list). I generally liked it, but I quickly forgot that the book even existed. It was only when it was made into a film in 2012 and I got around to rereading the book that I realized that I really enjoyed Mitchell’s style of writing. It then occurred to me that he might have written other books and, oh, maybe I should try reading them. I’m not sure why it took me so long, but I am so glad I did.
If you’ve ever read Cloud Atlas or seen the movie, then you know that Mitchell excels at weaving together seemingly disparate stories across different time periods to reveal a great truth. In the case of Cloud Atlas, one theme is that our actions have consequences that ripple through time, even if we can’t see them from our own standpoint. Of course, Mitchell says that each of the wildly different characters that live the six incredibly different stories are just the reincarnations of one soul, giving readers the clue of a birthmark to follow throughout the stories. The book can get confusing because the stories we read are not resolved before we are forced to explore a different life, making it difficult to remember exactly what just happened when we finally return to the characters to complete their timelines.
But Ghostwritten is different than Cloud Atlas in a very important way. Some of the characters in Ghostwritten run into each other, just like Cloud Atlas, but they move completely through their own stories before passing the torch on to the next character, whose actions are linked (somewhat inadvertently) to the previous character’s choices. This makes Ghostwritten much easier to read, a way for readers to cut their teeth on the somewhat-jarring narrative style that Mitchell prefers. My favorite stories are the ones that revolve around the old woman who runs a tea shack (the chapter is entitled “Holy Mountain”), the noncorpum who is a disembodied spirit traveling from body to body on its search for its origin (the chapter entitled “Mongolia”), and the physicist studying quantum cognition (the chapter entitled “Cape Clear Island”).
Despite the complexities of telling so many interlocking stories, Ghostwritten is actually an easy read. And if you enjoy it and are ready for something a little meatier, then I highly recommend picking up Cloud Atlas when you get a chance. Plus, a few minor characters from Ghostwritten return in Cloud Atlas, in much the same way that Stephen King appropriated his own characters for roles in his epic Dark Tower series.