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|Publisher||Hodder and Stoughton|
|19 August 1999|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Ghostwritten is the first novel published by English author David Mitchell. Published in 1999, it won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was widely acclaimed. The story takes place mainly around East Asia, but also moves through Russia, Britain, the USA and Ireland. It is written episodically; each chapter details a different story and central character, although they are all interlinked through seemingly coincidental events. Many of the themes from Ghostwritten continue in Mitchell’s subsequent novels, number9dream and Cloud Atlas, and a character later appears in The Bone Clocks.
Ghostwritten is the product of a number of influences, particularly from East Asian culture and superstition, as well as real events remodeled for plot purposes (e.g. the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway). There are also hints and references to other works, most prominently from Isaac Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics towards the end of the book, as well as Wild Swans by Jung Chang and The Music of Chance by Paul Auster.
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.
He goes into hiding in Okinawa, first in the capital Naha, and then in the small island of Kumejima. Posing as an computer employee on work leave after his wife's death, his efforts to remain reclusive are hampered by the friendliness of the town's other inhabitants. Meanwhile, mainland police crack down on the cult, freezing its assets and arresting His Serendipity.
Running out of money and fearing he will soon be arrested, Quasar calls a phone number supposedly provided by the cult, hoping to be tracked down and rescued by the remaining members. As he waits on the island, he reluctantly agrees to teach computing to students at a local school.
The next chapter focuses on Satoru, a young, lonely Japanese jazz lover working in a record shop in downtown Tokyo. His mother was a Filipina prostitute who was deported back to her country and he never met his father, and he was raised by the madam of the whore-house. He plays the tenor saxophone with his friend, Koji, and is frequently encouraged by others to do more with his life.
One day, a group of girls come to the shop and he finds himself enamored with one of them, Tomoyo, although when she leaves he is disappointed he will never see her again. Meanwhile, a regular customer of the shop offers Satoru a job in a publishing company.
On a later occasion, having just closed up the shop, Satoru hears the phone ringing from within and returns to answer it: it is the phone call from Quasar in the previous chapter, although Satoru does not say anything in reply. However, the tarrying to receive the call leads Satoru to another chance encounter with Tomoyo. The pair strike up a conversation and start a relationship, bonding over a love of jazz. She reveals she is half Japanese and half Chinese, and Satoru is devastated when she returns to Hong Kong, where she lives. As she leaves, Koji encourages Satoru to follow her. The section ends with Satoru calling Tomoyo, who has arrived in Hong Kong, and the pair discuss plans for him to visit her.
Neal Brose, an expat lawyer, lives alone on Lantau Island in an apartment he used to share with his wife, Katy Forbes, who left him because they could not have children. The apartment is haunted by the ghost of a girl, although initially it is unclear if Brose is referring to her, to his ex-wife or to his Chinese maid, with whom he is having an affair. Meanwhile, the owner of the financial institution where Neal works, Denholme Cavendish, has asked him to manage an secret bank account, number 1390931, belonging to Andrei Gregorski from Saint Petersburg.
On the night preceding the day of the narrative, Satoru and Tomoyo from the previous chapter, evidently in love, share a table with Brose in a cafe. Their obvious affection for each other leads Brose to meditate on love and the end of his own marriage to Forbes. That same evening, a policeman, Huw Llewellyn, confronts Brose about the Gregorski account and demands that Brose give him information. That night, Brose leaves a large amount of cash in the apartment for his maid.
The next day, Brose suffers a breakdown; instead of going to work, he climbs a hill towards the Tian Tan Buddha, along the way discarding his belongings, a briefcase containing his cellphone and pager and his Rolex watch. In the grip of a debilitating diabetic condition, he drops dead, causing the investigation and crash of the financial institution for which he works.
This chapter relates the life of a woman who runs a Tea Shack on the side of Mount Emei in China. As a young girl she is raped by the son of the local warlord, and gives birth to a daughter who is raised by relatives in Hong Kong. The woman believes that a tree outside the Tea Shack speaks to her and gives her counsel.
Over the course of her life, her shack is destroyed several times; first by the Japanese and then by the Communists. Each time, the woman rebuilds the shack and tries to make a living, venting her anger at each groups' treatment of her village. Eventually, reformists arrive and open up the shack and its surrounds to tourists, much to her chagrin. On one occasion, she witnesses a man asking another tourist about the origins of a Mongolian folk tale.
Having grown old, the woman discovers that she is now a great-grandmother and her great-granddaughter worked as a cleaning lady for a Westerner, evidently Neal Brose from the previous chapter. The old woman goes up to the top of the mountain, where the Buddhist temples are, to find freedom for her late father's soul. Her Daughter and niece come to visit her in her shack, and while they stay, she peacefully falls asleep dying in the upper room in her home.
Urban and rural Mongolia is seen through the eyes of a disembodied spirit, a "noncorpum" which survives by inhabiting living hosts. It has lost memory of its origin, only recollecting starting inside a soldier's mind at the foot of the Holy Mountain in China. Its only other memory is a fable about three animals thinking about the fate of the world. The noncorpum transmigrates from host to host, using whatever measures necessary to find the fable's origins.
For years the noncorpum inhabited the mind of the lady of the Tea Shack, manifesting as the voice of tree. The noncorpum subsequently left for Mongolia after overhearing a guest at the Tea Shack explain the fable's Mongolian origins. While in Mongolia, the noncorpum transmigrates into Caspar, a Danish backpacker. He meets an Australian girl, Sherry; they start travelling together and they initiate a relationship. The noncorpum transmigrates between a number of Mongolian natives, searching for a Mongolian writer said to know the origin of the fable.
When one of its hosts is murdered by a KGB agent, Suhbataar, the noncorpum gets loose and finds itself trapped in a ger with many other ghosts. It is eventually reborn as a Mongolian baby. The noncorpum manages to transmigrate to the baby's grandmother, who reveals its origins. The noncorpum was once a young boy from a remote Mongolian village. When Communists were about to execute the boy, a monk tried to save his life by transporting his soul into a young girl (who later became the grandmother). The connection, however, was broken and only the memories passed on to the girl. The rest of the boy's soul ended up in a nearby soldier. Having discovered its origins, the noncorpum decides to transmigrate back to the baby, who would have otherwise died, as her mortal soul.
Margarita Latunsky passes her days as a museum attendant in the Hermitage Museum, secretly planning a heist of a Delacroix painting housed there. Her abusive boyfriend Rudi is the mastermind of the heist, while English painter Jerome produces counterfeit paintings to replace those which they steal. The band works for the Russian crime boss Andrei Gregorski, who procures buyers and pockets most of the proceeds. Their latest buyer is Suhbataar, the KGB agent from the previous chapter, now lodging with Margarita and Rudi.
Margarita reluctantly acts as museum curator's mistress, at the same time dreaming of moving to Switzerland with Rudi using the proceeds of their heists. Rudi encourages this fantasy, though it is clear he has no intention of following through. In Soviet times Margarita claims to have been the lover of a powerful politician and an admiral. However, Rudi implies that the politician was a low-ranking official and her "admiral" a mere captain.
After the group successfully steal the painting, Latunsky returns to find her apartment ransacked and her pet cat killed. She retrieves a pistol concealed by Rudi and goes to Jerome's apartment with the intention of retrieving the stolen painting. There she finds Jerome about to leave with the painting and demands he give it to her. When he refuses, telling her she was simply a pawn in their operation, she shoots him dead. In the kitchen she discovers Rudi, already poisoned by Jerome. Suhbataar reveals his real task was to test Rudi's fidelity. Rudi had been in charge of laundering money for Gregorski through the Hong Kong bank account managed by Neal Brose, and Gregorski believed the sudden loss of the account was a result of Rudi's dishonesty. Taking the painting with him, he leaves the overwhelmed Margarita to the police.
In the first direct reference to the title of the novel, the action jumps to London and the exploits of Marco, who is barely scraping out a living as a ghostwriter and a drummer in a band called The Music of Chance. He has a difficult relationship with a woman named Poppy, who already has a daughter, India, but cannot completely abandon his Lothario ways and commit to Poppy.
Marco wakes up one morning in the bed of Katy Forbes. She sends him away when the postman delivers an antique chair sent to her by her ex-husband, Neal Brose, before he died. On his way out, Marco saves a woman, hurrying to Gatwick Airport, from being struck by a taxi. When he is subsequently interrogated by three suited men about the woman's whereabouts, Marco lies and tells them she went to Heathrow. The incident encourages him to consider the interplay between chance and destiny.
Marco is writing the autobiography of Alfred, an elderly radical homosexual of Hungarian Jewish origin. On this day, Alfred tells an incredulous Marco about an incident in 1947 when Aldred saw and chased a duplicate version of himself through London. Alfred's tale is interrupted Roy, Alfred's lover, with the news that their friend Jerome has been murdered in Russia. Later, Marco visits his publishing company, run by Timothy Cavendish, whose brother Denholme finances the company but is now running into financial trouble as a result of the Hong Kong incident.
In the evening, Marco goes to a casino with his friend Gibreel, Gibreel's rich cousin the cousin's Iranian friend. The cousin and Iranian give 300 pounds to Marco and Gibreel, betting between themselves over Marco and Gibreel's success during the night. Marco decides to use his credit card to extend his pot, and at the end of the night a fight breaks out between the group. Marco hides in a closet and contemplates the series of events which led him there. When he finally emerges, he decides to call Poppy and proposes to her.
Cape Clear Island
Mo Muntervary is a physicist studying quantum cognition or quancog. She has returned to Clear Island, her birthplace in the south of Ireland, after being on the run from the American government. She was employed in a research facility in Switzerland when she discovered that her results were being used by the U.S. military to build intelligent weapons. Her resignation for moral reasons is rejected, and an American general calling himself "Mr. Stolz" tries to force her to go and work in Texas. She runs away, and is nearly killed by a taxi in London when she is pushed out of the way by Marco, the ghostwriter. She jumps in the cab that ran her down and asks to go to Gatwick. While she is on the run she finds temporary shelter in Hong Kong with her old friend Huw Llewellyn. When unknown people almost catch her, she has to be on the move again. Part of her journey intersects with the characters in the Mongolia section of the novel. On the run, she develops a revolutionary new theory of quantum cognition, which she writes down in a little black book.
She returns to Clear Island to stay with her blind husband John and her eighteen-year-old son Liam. Eventually the Americans catch up with her. The whole island is prepared to defend her, but she decides to surrender. Before being caught, she feeds the little black book to her goat Feynman, so the Americans must rely on her for the theory, and she can set her own conditions. One condition is for John to follow her to Texas.
She has a plan to make her research turn to the cause of peace.
Night Train is a late night call-in radio show in New York City hosted by a DJ, Bat Segundo. The chapter is related entirely in dialog, primarily the words of Segundo, but also those of the callers to the show, who tend to be eccentric night-owls.
One night Segundo receives a call from an entity calling itself "Zookeeper." Over the course of several calls, it becomes clear to the reader—although not to the characters in the chapter—that Zookeeper is an artificial intelligence that has broken loose from its creators, who intended it for military use. It inhabits communication and military satellites through which it monitors the state of its "Zoo", that is, the planet Earth.
Zookeeper follows certain rules of behaviour, which, other than the first, are never given in full. The first rule says that it must be accountable for its actions, which is why it phones the show to reveal its existence and undertakings.
During the course of the chapter hostilities between the U.S. and an alliance of North-African Islamic states grow more tense. Reciprocal nuclear annihilation is imminent, but the Zookeeper blocks all the launching devices, averting the end of the world on a day that comes to be known thereafter as "brink day."
One year later a call to the show from Zookeeper is interrupted by a non-corporeal being named Arupadhatu, that can transfer from one body to another. It has been inside Mo Muntervary, the developer of Zookeeper (in the book's first chapter it was mentioned that resided in His Serendipity, the Japanese doomsday cult leader). It offers Zookeeper a pact to dominate the world, but Zookeeper refuses, identifies the entity and disables it, although it is unclear whether this is permanent.
In this segment it is also revealed that a comet will shortly be passing close to earth, but scientific instruments show that while it will be close enough for objects to cast two shadows and requiring people to wear sunblock, it is not actually on a collision course with earth. Before being disconnected, Arupadhatu mentions that as Zookeeper controls all the world's computer networks, no-one would know if the comet was actually on a collision course with earth if Zookeeper decided to conceal that fact. But due to Arupadhatu's aggressive and confrontational manner the significance of this is not recognized by the other parties to the conversation.
Zookeeper reveals to Segundo its moral dilemma: conventional wars are breaking out everywhere on Earth and man-made pollution and diseases are becoming rampant. Despite Zookeeper's efforts, innocent people are being killed and the Zookeeper cannot prevent this because one of its laws dictates that it cannot kill. But by not intervening more people will die.
After an ethical discussion with Segundo concerning a group of violent African soldiers heading towards a village of civilians they intend to massacre, Bat resolves the conflict of the laws with the suggestion that rather than Zookeeper launching a missile strike to kill the soldiers, which would lead to reprisals and further violence, it could instead damage a bridge that the group of soldiers would encounter so that it would fall as they cross, allowing the bridge to destroy them rather than Zookeeper doing it directly. Zookeeper appears to be satisfied with this option, and the implication is that the decision Zookeeper has arrived at is to allow humanity to be wiped out by the comet rather than intervening to destroy it. At this point the chapter ends.
Mitchell includes a quote at the beginning of Ghostwritten from the novel by Thornton Wilder, The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. That novel is about the failure of a Peruvian rope bridge and the death of five people as a result, whose lives are subsequently investigated by a friar who witnessed the accident as he seeks to understand why God allowed it or caused it to happen. The bridge sequence in this chapter is clearly related to this. One of the callers to the Night Train show is a writer named Luisa Rey, who also appears prominently in Mitchell's third novel, Cloud Atlas, and to a lesser extent in Mitchell's sixth novel, The Bone Clocks.
The conclusion of the novel brings the focus back to the Tokyo underground and the terrorist attack perpetrated by Quasar. He almost gets stuck in the train car after unlocking the timer that will release the deadly gas. As he struggles to get out, people and objects with strong references to the other stories appear to him. Strands from all of the other chapters of the book are introduced via his hallucinations. He is left on a station platform, pondering what is real.
- Lively, Adam (1999-08-08). "Inside every psychopath is a jazz buff trying to get out". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
- Mendelsohn, Daniel Mendelsohn (Sep 18, 2000). "Big Blue Marble". NYMag.com. New York Magazine. Retrieved 2017-08-24.