• Friday, February 27, 2015



Tanha Tamanna Haque

“Then ditch this 'ethical variable' jargon. Drop whatever is getting in the way.”
--David Mitchell

There was a time when it was hip for literary writers to write genre novels, as it is now for every literary writer to be an 'essayist'. A few might disagree, might say decent 'genre fiction' would always serve well in the hands of those who had been writing them all this time (commercial writers). But there is no question that literary writers taking up genre tropes en masse answers the most important question regarding the switchover, that 'genre fiction' with its Sci-fi, Fantasy and Detective accessories has stopped being light entertainment. It is now an important tool in the creation of a meaningful story.
David Mitchell's “Ghostwritten” is a book that changes perceptions about genre fiction.
Mitchell got famous through his third novel “Cloud Atlas”, which was later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. “Cloud Atlas” is comprised of six juxtaposed novellas on the theme of freedom. “Ghostwritten”, his first novel, is nine stories put together consecutively and reads like a ghost crawling out of his marked territory in search of something.
And there are ghosts, plenty of them. One of the stories has a ghost, 'transmigrating' from host body to host body in search of his identity. Another has a ghost in the form of a little girl living in a young couple's apartment, who happens to hate the wife. Another does not have a ghost, but rather a ghostwriter, who is writing the memoir of a shady Russian guy.
There's also a disembodied god-like entity, who, frustrated by the way he can no longer retain peace in the universe, breaks into a late night talk show to ask for advice. The ghosts sift between the pages to make cameo appearances in the stories. Though the nine episodes may read like individual stories, they are actually interlinked.
The first story is about a terrorist who somehow misdials a call. That call is picked up by the narrator of the next story, a Japanese jazz-buff who falls in love with a girl and, later, visits her in Honk Kong. The couple sits in a café in Hong Kong, where the narrator of the next story, a British man, is sitting in his own pile of troubles. And like this, the train of events continues.
In fact nobody really knows each other, and everyone is linked by a web of fleeting connections -- shared acquaintances or partners, a ride on the same boat, a brief meeting on the street. One narrator almost accidentally saves another's life; one witnesses another's death.
What Mitchell does successfully is depict all of them in a situation where they are contemplating their morality, their 'what-should-I-dos', their 'whys', their 'why nots' -- and before you know it, they are pausing for a moment to rethink their principles.
Mitchell is interested in the natural aspects of fiction: the pleasures of surprises, of 'connections'. His is the powerful lyrical voice that sucks you in, makes you listen.
Indeed, “Ghostwritten” can be seen as a thriller, a love-story, and a 'post cold war' suspense. What “Ghostwritten” really succeeds in doing is abandoning the 'minimalism' of the previous generation, where emotions, compassion and warmth of the characters are discarded in favour of 'observing from the outside'.
Hence “Ghostwritten” brings us a different kind of fiction writing, the New Sincerity, where you try to write from the inside.

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, February 02, 2014

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