Look Inside. A young jazz buff in Tokyo. A crooked British lawyer in Hong Kong. A disc jockey in Manhattan. A physicist in Ireland. An elderly woman running a tea shack in rural China.

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David Mitchell's first novel is a firework display, shooting off in a dozen different narrative directions and united, somewhere up in the stratosphere, only by a thin tracery of metaphysical speculation.

With its high-octane speculations on chance and fate, it will no doubt become labelled, fatuously, a 'novel of ideas'. In fact, what makes it memorable is the range and variety of its writing - cartoonish, profound, lyrical, cynical and stylish.

For someone born in , the assurance and panache with which Mitchell handles these changes is truly remarkable. He can certainly do the voices. To start with, we are inside the head of a Japanese cultist who has released poisonous gas on the Tokyo subway and is now on the run. Then there is an adolescent jazz buff; a Nick Leeson-like Hong Kong trader; an old Chinese woman who runs a tea shack near a Buddhist shrine; a disembodied spirit in Mongolia which can occupy the consciousness of anyone; a femme fatale mixed up with art thieves in St Petersburg; a ghostwriter of minor celebrity autobiographies up to high jinks in London's low life; an Irish physicist fleeing her Dr Strangelove-ish paymasters; and finally, a late-night shock-jock in an apocalyptic New York of the near future who finds himself taking calls from a superior cyberconsciousness.

The miracle is that there is never a sense of Mitchell treading water or struggling for air. What, though, ties them together? What is the big picture? To start with, rather like Kieslowski's 'Three Colours' films, there are world-is-a-small-place coincidences and connections between the stories, narrative wormholes through which Mitchell can crawl in defiance of time and space.

Incidentally, I suspect he has seen the 'Three Colours' films. In the London section, the ghostwriter gets shat on by a pigeon, just like the hapless Zbigniew Zamachowski character in Three Colours White. Or maybe that's just coincidence, another wormhole. But there is also something bigger going on.

David Mitchell has written that his fiction is influenced by his residence in Japan. In the crystal-clear nihilism of the opening section, one can hear echoes of Mishima. More generally, the structure of the novel reflects those refreshingly unchristian ideas of chance and synchronicity that drew Jung to Eastern thought. Throughout - notably in an excellent comic scene where the London ghostwriter gets into a scrape at a casino - there are reflections on fate and fortuity, on hazard and the narrative meanings we make of it.

On top of all this is a thriller plot to do with the discovery of a means of reversing the sequence of cause and effect. This it is that saves the world. And it is at this meta-fictional level that Ghostwritten wobbles somewhat. Put bluntly, how much of the pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo does Mitchell want us to believe? Are we talking jeu d'esprit or philosophical statement? Or, more probably, both?

The epilogue hints that the whole thing has happened inside the head of the Japanese fruitcake in the seconds before he releases the sarin. Or perhaps, by lining up alternative narrative closures, Mitchell is signalling openness at a Higher Level.

Here, the brain starts seizing up. We are a long way from Leavis. My advice, though, is just to enjoy the wit and colour of the storytelling 'Oxford Street is one of those sold-out-past-its-best-things, like Glastonbury Rock Festival or Harrison' , the speed of thought, the inventiveness of the language.

This is a remarkable novel by a young writer of remarkable talent. Sit back and soak up the voices. And if the metaphysics happen, they happen. Topics Guardian first book award The Observer.

Guardian first book award Awards and prizes Fiction David Mitchell. Reuse this content. Most popular.



David Mitchell's debut novel, Ghostwritten, is a series of loosely interwoven stories: a novel in nine parts, as the title page describes it. It seems there is something especially attractive about the episodic form to the first-time novelist. James Joyce's first work of extended fiction, Dubliners , was a series of inter-linked short stories. Samuel Beckett's first novel, More Pricks than Kicks , was episodic. Mitchell may only be starting out, but he is in fine company, perhaps the best the 20th century has to offer. Each of the chapters are named after different places, beginning with "Okinawa" and travelling Westwards via Mongolia and Ireland to New York.


Spirit that speaks

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Inside every psychopath is a jazz buff trying to get out

Ghostwritten is the first novel published by English author David Mitchell. Published in , it won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was widely acclaimed. It is written episodically; each chapter details a different story and central character, although they are all interlinked through seemingly coincidental events. Ghostwritten is the product of a number of influences, particularly from East Asian culture and superstition, as well as real events remodelled for plot purposes e. This section details the actions of Quasar, a member of a millenarianist doomsday cult , attempting to evade capture after releasing nerve agents into a Tokyo subway train. He believes himself to be able to converse telepathically with 'His Serendipity', leader of the cult, and regards modern society with disgust, waiting for an apocalyptic moment — a comet's prophesied collision with earth.



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