” I experience memories like a network of tunnels. Some are serviced and brightly lit, others are catacombs . . . But access to memories does not guarantee access to truth. Many minds redirect memories along revised maps ” 
Ghostwritten is David Mitchell’s debut novel but he is not playing safe with a conventional straight narrative style. With ten sections that adopt a variety of style and voices—formal, informal, chatty, humorous, surreptitious—these stories, which revolve around nine characters make for a jigsaw puzzle of a novel of which the grand design becomes clear as the last pieces are put in place. Episodic novel has to reach a higher bar to success because the different sections often fall prey to unevenness in terms of holding readers’ interest. Ghostwritten is no exception. While individual character can be sentimental, despite the ingenuity of juxtaposing ideas of transcendence that bear no initial connection over time and space, the overall atmosphere of the book is dispassionate.
As my infancy progressed, I became aware of another presence in ‘my’ body. Stringy mists of color and emotion condensed into droplets of understanding. I saw, and slowly came to recognize, gardens, paths, barking dogs, rice fields, sunlit washing drying in warm town breezes. I had no idea why these images came when they did. Like being plugged into a plotless movie. Slowly I walked down the path trodden by all humans, from the mythic to the prosaic. Unlike humans, I remember the path. 
The novel begins in Okinawa, Japan, where a cult member has fled after participating in a gas attack on Tokyo’s subway that is reminiscent of the sarin attack unleashed by the Aum followers. From Quasar, the terrorist, the book is set in motion as episodes that seem unrelated to one another supersede over international locales, almost like telepathy. From Okinawa the narrative moves on to Tokyo, in which an orphaned Filipino-Japanese lad who works in a jazz record shop falls in love with a girl of Japanese descent but lives in Hong Kong. When Satoru visits Tomoyo in the former British colony, an expat financier finds his personal life in tatters. On top of his divorce from his wife and an affair with the house maid, Neal Bose’s money laundering for a Russian criminal has doomed him. From here the story snaps into China, where an old Buddhist woman runs a tea shack near a shrine at the foot of Holy Mountain. She reflects upon the austere life under the red flag during Cultural Revolution. Across the border, in Mongolia, is where a disembodied spirit, a non corpum entity, looks to transmigrate into human hosts.
Birth deals us out a hand of cards, but as important as their value is the place we are dealt them in. 
Together with an elaborate art theft conspiracy at the Hermitage, the quantum physicist who dodges the CIA, the London ghostwriter who lives a life of libido, a New York wee-hour DJ who doesn’t cut slack, and an unusual caller produced by artificial intelligence, the novel takes on a philosophizing path, but not without a metaphysical edge. It muses about the duality of chance and fate in life, about fortuity and synchronicity. The story does come full-circle back to where it started, but sans destination. The subtle links that traverse the narratives, which are actually the keynote of the book, illustrates how a minor incident in one person’s life could turn the world upside down for another. The circuit of synchronicity never stops. For a debut, Ghostwritten is more than impressive, and keeps readers thrilled.
426 pp. Trade paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]