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Ghostwritten

Narrated by: William Rycroft
Length: 15 hrs and 9 mins
4 out of 5 stars (445 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Oblivious to the bizarre ways in which their lives intersect, nine characters - a terrorist in Okinawa, a record-shop clerk in Tokyo, a money-laundering British financier in Hong Kong, an old woman running a tea shack in China, a transmigrating "noncorpum" entity seeking a human host in Mongolia, a gallery-attendant-cum-art-thief in Petersburg, a drummer in London, a female physicist in Ireland, and a radio deejay in New York - hurtle toward a shared destiny of astonishing impact. Like the book's one non-human narrator, Mitchell latches onto his host characters and invades their lives with parasitic precision, making Ghostwritten a sprawling and brilliant literary relief map of the modern world.

©1999 David Mitchell (P)2013 WF Howes

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 07-27-13

Journeys of connectedness

I'm a bit amazed that David Mitchell was only in his late 20s when he wrote this kaleidoscopic novel, given his adeptness with language, setting, voice, and ideas. As in his more famous (and later) Cloud Atlas, Mitchell blends history, tragedy, wit, myth, metaphysics, moral questions, and consciously cinematic melodrama into a swirling literary collage.

Like Cloud Atlas, this one contains a set of loosely-linked stories that take place in different locations around the world and, in some cases, span decades of history. The protagonist of each is at some moment in his or her life when everything is about to change. There's a Japanese doomsday cultist whose conviction in his deluded belief system gives rise to disquieting, yet infecting observations about the world. There's a young, jazz-obsessed slacker working in a Tokyo record store (an obvious Murakami nod), who falls in love with a girl that happens to wander in by a chance. There's a harried 30-something British financier watching his life and his biggest deal fall apart, while convinced that his Hong Kong apartment is haunted by a ghost. There's an old Chinese woman who runs a noodle stand on a sacred mountain, and has come through much history mostly by being beneath its concern. There's a “noncorpum”, a disembodied spirit that transfers itself between human hosts and travels across Mongolia, in search of its own origins. There's a female Russian art thief, waiting for the moment to carry out a big heist, but acutely conscious of her departing youth.

Unlike Cloud Atlas, which played games with which stories were "real" (and what "real" ultimately means in the context of imaginative constructions), this book puts its characters on the same broad stage and has them crossing paths with one another. At first, the connections are fleeting, but as the book progresses, the stories and their themes intersect more and more, building towards a crescendo that includes an Irish quantum physicist trying to evade the militaristic designs of the US government, a noncorpum of another sort, and a late night radio DJ on the eve of the end of the world.

Mitchell is mad juggler of a writer, taking a collection of ideas that would be somewhat hackneyed on their own, and reconfiguring them into a grand mural in motion. Each story has its own lyrically sordid details, powerful truths, and cosmic absurdities, yet their meaning is in their connectedness. It would seem that we’re all ghosts in one another’s machines, mostly unconscious of each other, yet profoundly linked, part of the same endless universal cycle of suffering, joy, death, and rebirth.

It's not hard to see that this was Mitchell's first book. There's a sense of a young author appropriating ideas with the enthusiasm of a rail tourist snapping photos, though with enough tongue-in-cheek that it doesn't feel like theft. And the ending, which borrows elements from sci-fi B-movies, feels a little clumsy and preachy compared to the rest of the book.

Still, it’s a damn impressive debut, showcasing Mitchell’s ample gifts at technique and full of questions and beautiful insights. If you like literary fiction that hovers on the edge of fanciful, without crossing over into full-blown magic realism, then he’s someone you should read. Cloud Atlas is my personal favorite, but if that one sounds too meta, you might connect more with Ghostwritten. I'm pretty happy with the audiobook narrator chosen here, William Rycroft. He doesn't do a wide range of accents, but his tone and delivery are quite skillful.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 05-29-13

An Embryonic Version of Cloud Atlas

So Kill me. I really like David Mitchell, and reading this knowing it was his first novel is one of those things you can only really believe if you've read his other novels. This seems like an embryonic version of Cloud Atlas, with a lot of the same ideas, themes, and even a borrowed character or two. But that seems unfair, because most floret-novels never actually seem beautiful before their time. This one seems both a shinny fetus and world-ready.

This baby was my JAM. Yes, there are/were times (each of his books have several TIMES) when Mitchell's transcendent/jazzy/flash*flash/UnitedColorsofBeneton schtick gets a little tired, but he still pulls it off. Kind of like when I'm watching the Winter Olympics and I get a little overwhelmed by the flamboyance of the whole "we-are-the-world-in-tights" routine, but I still end up watching most of the crazy programing.

Anyway, it was fun to read and to already know the future. I read this already knowing that Mitchell wasn't going to be a one-hit-wonder, that his best books were ahead of him, that he would always have an Asian thing, that the Wachowskis/Tom Hanks would almost RUIN Cloud Atlas for me, that I would read every book he ever publishes, and usually buy several copies in many formats for several friends.

29 of 33 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A David Mitchell novel that actually makes sense!

Great story, complex and mysterious per usual from Mitchell. Vivid descriptions of the interior and subterranean selves. production could have benefited from longer pauses or short musical segue between shifts in narration.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 11-23-13

Awesome, but not for the casual reader

As other reviewers have said, this is kaleidoscopic in that it has several loosely (and sometimes surprisingly) linked stories - incredibly imaginative, very deep, unpredictable, fascinating and beautifully written.

Do not read/listen to this expecting anything like a straightforward story or even, necessarily, a point. You immerse yourself in the experience, and just try to take it all in, while your jaw drops periodically b/c of an amazing bit of writing or way of exploring an idea. Being inside this book (like with Cloud Atlas) creates a kind of awe, and amazement that someone's mind works this way.

If you like Mitchell's writing, you will love this. If you are looking for lighter entertainment, a neat story or anything like closure at the end, this may not be your cup of tea.

The performance is remarkable, with the reader taking on and giving voice to a wide range of characters with precision and grace.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

I have no idea what I just listened to

First, the narrator gave no indication that he was moving from one person to the next. Often it took me a minute to figure out we were on to a new character. I rewound this book more than any other I've listened to because I didn't know what's going on.

In addition, the story felt incomplete. The ending was more a beginning and I'm still not certain what the story was actually about. If you want to try this author, I recommend The Bone Clocks instead. THAT was a great book and fabulously narrated!

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Monotonous narration made listening impossible

Books like this remind me of the value when narrator is on target... with no variation in voice, characters all sound the same, and even descriptive stuff gets muddled with conversation. Mitchell’s stories are far too complex for recitation as monologue.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Too Bizarre for me

I was lost through most of it, exacerbated by putting it down to read something else because this story was more baffling than interesting. The narrator rushed from one voice to another without any change in modulation and I could not tell who was speaking.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Mitchell's first, good but not his best

This was David Mitchell's first novel, but his techniques and storytelling style was already in place. If you have read his later books, particularly Cloud Atlas or The Bone Clocks, you will see a lot that is familiar here, including names.

That and the fact that it has some meandering sections typical of a first novel makes it a 3.5 star book - good, but not great. David Mitchell is, I think, one of the best modern writers so this book is hardly a fumbling, flawed "first novel" - just not as refined as his later ones. But since he does the same thing to better effect in his later books, I think Ghostwritten will suffer by comparison if you've read them first.

As is usual, Mitchell takes a wide and diverse cast of characters, from an art thief in Russia to an old woman surviving the Communist revolution in China to an English ghostwriter to a non-corporeal body-hopping entity. Most of Mitchell's books have at least a little bit of the supernatural element in them, mixed with small doses of sci-fi, and Ghostwritten is no exception. The "noncorpum" entity later encounters another sort of non-corporeal being, a self-aware AI who becomes involved in the final chapters with a countdown to Armageddon.

With all these interesting stories, and a climax that sort of ties all the threads together, Ghostwritten often seemed more like a collage of individual stories than a single novel where everything was connected. The much more deliberate story-within-a-story effect used in Cloud Atlas now looks like how Mitchell decided to improve upon his earlier effort.

This was a good book and anyone who has enjoyed Mitchell's other books will enjoy this one, but I would not say it's required reading unless you really want to read everything by him.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Fot Mitchell completists only.

Good but far from best Mitchell book. Only those who want to read his entire collection may want to read/listen to this. Narrator does well enough, but awful American accents.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 07-08-15

Mitchell's first novel - intertwined, intertextual

This is a novel that demands close listening/reading and re-reading. With Ghostwritten, Mitchell creates a world of intertwined stories and narrators -- a mashup of styles, and an intricate mosaic whose network of gaps are as critical as the fragments that make up
its whole. Human characters narrate their sections alongside beings without bodies and a deity whose body is a network of signals, voices, and satellites. As witty and moving as the most literate fiction and as imaginative and mythic as the best science fiction, Ghostwritten will leave you awe-struck and electrified to go back to the first page and take the ride again. The audiobook narrator had the daunting task of evoking these diverse voices and did so excellently!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful