Literary experimentalism meets speculation in Ghostwritten. Review by S.K. Slevinski

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While ostensibly published as mainstream fiction, Ghostwritten by David Mitchell taps into the themes and sensibilities that drive the cravings of speculative fiction readers.

Ghostwritten follows, chapter by chapter, the lives of diverse characters in a variety of modern day Earth societies. At first, a reader may not see how a Japanese terrorist, a British banker or Buddhist woman amount to anything more than chapter-length vingnettes. After all, with each new chapter, we leave one character behind to another. But the subtle and peculiar details that connect their lives create a "chaos theory" atmosphere. Hopping characters roughly east to west, we reach a crucial chapter in the middle of the book, told from the point of view of a "noncorpum" being in Mongolia searching for a permanent human host. This not-so-subtle nudge into the realm of speculative fiction confirms our suspicions of connectedness.

Mitchell draws a fascinating story from diverse threads of conflict. One of the great strengths of this book is the vivid exploration of characters and cultures. While the book is set in contemporary Earth (the final chapter betrays its 1999 publication date), the cultures come to life with such depth that any speculative reader who has not personally resided in each of these locales will revel in the newness, strangeness, and peculiar familiarity of these cultures. The chapter in Mongolia is especially fascinating in the desolate separateness of its native cultures, and in its culturally haywire connectedness to modern world powers. The bizarre and common threads among these narrators lead toward a chaotic and apocalyptic ending. The final chapters are uneven, and I suppose the promises of this book's ambition might have been near impossible to pay off. But the endpoint need be nowhere near as fascinating as the journey that takes us to it.

This book represents a new direction for speculative storytelling, and I will be anxious to see if trendsetters in speculative genres will pick up on it.

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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.