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|Publisher||Hodder and Stoughton|
|19 August 1999|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Ghostwritten is the first novel published by the 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 subject 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 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 ordinary people with disgust, waiting for an apocalyptic moment — a comet's prophesied collision with earth — in which they will be destroyed. He is hiding in Okinawa, first in the capital Naha, then in the small island of Kumejima. When he runs out of money, he phones a number that was given to him by the association of the cult and says the secret message "the dog needs to be fed". While he is in Okinawa the police crack down on the cult and arrest His Serendipity, an act which shocks Quasar, who has been led to believe that His Serendipity has the power to teleport himself and walk through solid walls.
In a seemingly unlinked next chapter, the spotlight lands on Satoru, a young Japanese jazz lover working in a record shop in downtown Tokyo. He plays the tenor saxophone with a pianist friend. 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.
When one day a group of girls come to the shop, he finds himself attracted to one of them, Tomoyo, but the girls leave and he thinks he will never see her again. On a later occasion, having just closed up the shop, he hears the phone ringing from within and returns to answer it: it turns out to be a phone call from somebody who says just the words "the dog needs to be fed" before hanging up. His tarrying to receive the call leads to another meeting with Tomoyo. Satoru and Tomoyo strike up a conversation and they start a relationship. She turns out to be half Japanese and half Chinese and lives in Hong Kong. She later asks him to follow her to Hong Kong and the section ends with them discussing what flights he can catch.
The life of financial lawyer Neal Brose starts to unravel as he tries to cope with the money laundering deal he is carrying out, and impending divorce. This chapter is related by Brose in a monologue, following the course of one day.
He lives alone in an apartment that he used to share with his wife, Katy Forbes,who left him to return to London 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 the Chinese maid his wife had hired, with whom he is now conducting an affair. "For the last few months I've been living with three women," Brose says. "One was a ghost, , who is now a woman. One was a woman, who is now a ghost. One is a ghost, and always will be."
The owner of the financial institution for which Neal works, Denholme Cavendish, asked him to manage a secret bank account, number 1390931, into which a mysterious Andrei Gregorski from Saint Petersburg regularly deposits large sums of money.
On the night preceding the day of the narrative, a couple, evidently in love, sits at the same table with Brose. The girl is Chinese and the boy Japanese and he is carrying a saxophone case. It is Satoru and Tomoyo from the previous chapter. Their evident infatuation for each other leads Brose to meditate on love and the end of his marriage to Forbes. That same evening a policeman, Huw Llewellyn, confronts Brose about the Gregorski account and demands that Brose gives him information concerning the account the next day.
The next day, the day of the narrative, Brose suffers a breakdown: Instead of going to work for a crucial meeting, he climbs a hill towards a Buddhist temple, along the way discarding his belongings, an expensive briefcase containing his cellphone and pager, his Rolex watch and suit jacket.
In the grip of a debilitating diabetic condition he drops dead, causing the investigation and crash of the financial institution for which he works and also causing major impacts on the next storylines. The institution's demise is also referenced in the author's third novel, Cloud Atlas.
The character of Neal Brose reappears in the author's fourth novel, Black Swan Green. In this novel, Brose is a young teenager living in Worcester. The character of Denholme Cavendish also reappears in the author's third novel, Cloud Atlas.
This chapter relates the reminiscences of a woman who runs a tea shack on the side of Mount Emei in China, who lives through the late feudalism of China through the brutality of Communism under Mao Zedong and the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping.
As a young girl she is raped by the son of the local warlord, and gives birth to a daughter who is raised by far-away relatives. Through the turmoil of the last half century of Chinese history, she never moves from the Holy Mountain and her tea shack. The solitude of the Holy Mountain and hope for her daughter keeps her alive through the defining points of China's turbulent recent history, and allow her to maintain her sense of peace with the world.
Representatives of various powers come to the shack in turn: the Japanese, the Nationalists, the Communists. The shack is destroyed several times and always rebuilt by her hand, and she sees that all these various groups and ideologies are simply foolish, vain men in different uniforms and guises. She, like the Tea Shack and the Holy Mountain, is resilient, and represents both the womanhood and the common people of China in her strength and ability to survive
She believes that a tree outside the Tea Shack speaks to her and gives her counsel.
One day she receives a letter from her daughter, who has fled to Hong Kong. She discovers that she is now a great-grandmother and her granddaughter works as a cleaning lady for a Westerner, evidently Neal Brose from the previous chapter.
She never goes up to the top of the mountain, where the Buddhist temples are, until the end of her life.
Urban and rural Mongolia is seen through the eyes of a disembodied spirit, a "noncorpum" which survives by inhabiting living hosts. Whilst generally non-malevolent, the spirit uses whatever measures necessary to discover more about its birth and the nature of its existence. The narration starts with Caspar, a Danish backpacker travelling on a train to Mongolia. He meets an Australian girl, Sherry; they start travelling together and they initiate a relationship.
The narrator, the noncorpum, currently resides inside Caspar's mind. It has lost memory of its origin. It can recollect starting inside the mind of a man at the village at the foot of the Holy Mountain in China. This man had been a brigand and a soldier in Mongolia. Its only preceding memory is a story of three animals thinking about the fate of the world. The noncorpum transmigrates from host to host, trying to find its origin by trying to find the origin of the three animals story. Mitchell implies that at one point the noncorpum had inhabited the mind of Jorge Luis Borges.
For a time it inhabited the mind of the lady of the Tea Shack in the Holy Mountain chapter, who believed its voice was that of a magical tree. The noncorpum came to Mongolia after overhearing a mother tell the animal story to her son while staying as a guest at the Tea Shack. The mother said that the story is an old Mongolian folk tale. While in Mongolia, the noncorpum transmigrates from Caspar to a Mongolian woman and then to several other natives as it tries to find a writer who is collecting traditional Mongolian stories and is said to know the origin of the tale of the three animals.
When one of its hosts is murdered by the Mongolian KGB agent Subhataar, the noncorpum gets loose and finds itself in a ger (a traditional Mongolian tent) with many other ghosts, unable to get out. It is eventually reborn, 3 months later, as the newborn child of a young Mongolian woman. The noncorpum transmigrates first to the mother, then her husband, and finally to her grandmother. In the mind of the grandmother the noncorpum finally discovers its origin.
It was once a young Buddhist boy from a remote Mongolian village. When the Communists were about to execute the boy, his master, a monk, tried to save his life by transporting his soul into the body of 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 Chinese soldier.
The noncorpum decides to transmigrate back to the newborn girl—who would have otherwise died—as her mortal soul.
As repercussions from the business crash in Hong Kong and events in Mongolia ripple towards Russia, her life and the lies she has forced herself to believe are torn apart. In Soviet times she claims to have been the lover of a powerful politician and an admiral. However, from comments made by her abusive boyfriend Rudi and her responses it becomes clear her "politburo member" was a low-ranking official and her "admiral" a mere captain. Related (like all the chapters of Ghostwritten) in the first person, Saint Petersburg reveals Latunsky to be an aging woman in an abusive relationship, exaggerating the circumstances of her past and present to render her quite sordid reality glamorous and to give herself hope for a happy, though improbable, future.
Now she is the mistress of the museum chief curator and works for a band of art thieves. Her boyfriend Rudi is the mastermind of the band, while the English painter Jerome produces fake paintings that they substitute for the stolen ones.
The band works for the Russian crime boss Andrei Gregorski, who procures buyers for the stolen artifacts and pockets most of the proceedings.
Margarita dreams of leaving Russia and going to live in Switzerland with Rudi on the money they have made by stealing the art. Rudi encourages this fantasy, though it is clear he has no intention of following through.
Their latest plan is to steal the painting Eve and the Serpent by Delacroix, which they do successfully.
The buyer sent by Gregorski is the Mongolian hitman Suhbataar, whose real task is to test the fidelity of Rudi. Rudi had been in charge of laundering money for Gregorski through a Hong Kong bank account. It is the account managed by Neal Brose in the previous chapter.
After the theft Latunsky returns home to find her apartment ransacked and her pet cat killed. She retrieves a pistol that Rudi had concealed and goes to Jerome's apartment with the intention of retrieving the painting. There she finds Jerome about to leave with the painting and demands he give it to her. He refuses, telling her she was simply a pawn in their operation, and she shoots Jerome dead. In the kitchen of his apartment she discovers the body of Rudi, whom Jerome has killed by lacing a shot of heroin with poison.
Suhbataar is there, and he tells Latunsky that Jerome killed Rudi, but that he would have done so too, because Gregorski no longer trusted him, believing that the loss of the Hong Kong account was as a result of dishonesty on Rudi's part.
He departs, leaving Margarita to the police, in a state of shock and denial.
In the first direct reference to the title of the novel, the action jumps to London and the exploits of Marco, a drummer and ghostwriter, scraping out a living whilst barely avoiding the darker seductions of the capital. Complex plotlines involving the science of chance and destabilization of the world, sparked off in earlier chapters, begin to pick up speed.
Marco is a womanizer. He 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 husband, Neal Brose, from Hong Kong before he died of diabetes. On his way out, Marco saves a woman who was about to be hit by a taxi. She is in a hurry and takes the taxi to Gatwick airport. Afterwards, three men in suits interrogate Marco about where she was going. Marco lies and tells them she went to Heathrow.
Marco plays in a rock band called The Music of Chance. This whole part is about the interplay between chance and destiny. He has an almost stable relation with Poppy, who already has a daughter, India. But he cannot abandon his random life to commit completely to her.
Marco is also a ghostwriter, writing the autobiography of Alfred, an old radical homosexual of Hungarian Jewish origin. On this day, Alfred tells Marco about that time in 1947 when he saw his own alter ego. The narration is interrupted by Roy, Alfred's lover, with the news that their friend Jerome has been murdered in Russia. Later, Marco visits the publishing house he works for. The director is Timothy Cavendish, brother of Denholme, who finances the company but is running into financial trouble because his law firm in Hong Kong is being investigated. The character of Timothy Cavendish also appears in Mitchell's later book, "Cloud Atlas".
In the evening, the rich cousin of Marco's friend Gibreel makes a bet with an Iranian acquaintance: they give some money to Marco and Gibreel, go to the casino, and bet on which of the two will win more. Marco cheats and a fight breaks out.
Eventually Marco makes the decision to put an end to the way he is living and marry Poppy.
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 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 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.