Sunday 26 August 2007

35. Ghostwritten

I love David Mitchell. I think I might scream and faint like a 50s teeny-bopper seeing Elvis swing his hips if I were to meet David Mitchell. It's not that he's a hotpants, although he might be for all I know - it's that he's such a ridiculous genius.

My introduction to Mitchell lies in one of my better book discovery tales. Two years ago or so (?) I was on the train going from Kingston to Toronto. I was reading some crappy book for my studies and wasn't very absorbed - which enabled me to notice that the guy in the seat next to me was discretely looking over my shoulder.

I realized he was doing something I always do on the subway - he was trying to figure out what I was reading. This made me feel kindly towards him, so I angled the book so he'd get a better look. He responded kindly towards my kindly gesture and we ended up talking about books for the next two hours.

This fella was in his late forties, I'm guessing. (I should have gotten his email address so that I could get more book recommendations later; I'm a fool!) He'd read everything. He loved books with a passion I'd lost sight of in my soul-crushing years in the academy.

Near the end of our conversation, he said (it must have been in response to my gushing about what a book nerd he was) "You know, I'm not a professor." I responded "Oh I know!" - here, he started to look as though he wondered if he ought to be offended - "You love books too much to be a professor!!!" He seemed relieved. And again I asked myself why I ever thought a PhD in English was a good idea.

So, he loved books, but he was especially enthusiastic about a book he'd just read - twice in a row - and so recommended it to me. That book was David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, the third of his growing oeuvre, which is currently sitting at four.

This train-bound book-lover made Cloud Atlas sound so incredibly compelling that I got it as soon as possible and read it - and I've been recommending it in rather rabid fashion ever since. I've also, slowly, been catching up on Mitchell's other books in advance of the new one he's writing right now.

Ghostwritten is his first novel, published when he was only 30 (yes, this too makes me wonder what the hell I've been doing with my life). I started it this afternoon, at some friends' cottage on a lovely lake near Parry Sound. It was delightful to sit on the porch and in one of many hammocks and just get absorbed in this book. Like the other two Mitchell books I've read (besides Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green), Ghostwritten is a fractured narrative (although he fractures his narratives differently each time) in which seemingly disparate threads are revealed to be connected in surprising and evocative ways.

It's actually almost impossible to tell people what Mitchell's books are about. I wouldn't know how to do it without revealing either everything or nothing (see above for "nothing"). All I can say is: read his stuff. You won't regret it. And if you do, maybe I don't want to be friends with you. Just joking. Maybe.

No comments: