David Mitchell v. David Mitchell

My friendly neighborhood Google Reader featured a post with the headline: “David Mitchell Bends Fiction.”

“OOH!” thought I, excitedly. “David Mitchell has a new book out? I love him! I know he already has the “This Mitchell and Webb Book” book out which was based on the “That Mitchell and Webb Look” television show which, in turn, originated with the “That Mitchell and Webb Sound” radio show. This deserves a read!”

The blurb read, “In his genre-bending fiction, the British writer shows that the novel can be reinvented.” So, click away did I . . . only to find out that the article is not about THAT David Mitchell, the British author, but THIS David Mitchell, the British author.

THIS David Mitchell


THAT David Mitchell

I skimmed the first page and then came across this:

Mitchell’s readership is also uncommonly diverse, comprising “Mitchell Geeks,” who pursue him at readings and with “Lost” -like fanaticism trace and trade the references in his books; hip academics who hold conferences on his work; filmmakers like the Wachowski brothers (who bought the rights to Mitchell’s third novel, “Cloud Atlas”); and, by and by, some of the world’s most lauded writers, among them the Booker Prize winners A. S. Byatt, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hilary Mantel and the American literary lights Michael Chabon and Claire Messud.

Not bad!  I was warming up to him.  I like geeks and “Lost” and the Wachowski brothers and Michael Chabon!  Maybe I’ll give him a try even though I was brought to him under false pretenses.  Fie on you, Wyatt Mason, for the following description of the book “Cloud Atlas”:

What Mitchell was doing was writing a novel not quite like any that had come before it, and one that defeats tidy summary. “Cloud Atlas” consists of five false starts, a sequence of unfinished novellas, each set in a different place and time, each with a distinct form: the South Pacific in the 1850s, through the travel journal of a notary out of Melville; Belgium in 1931, in a composer’s letters to a lover as if by Christopher Isherwood; California in the 1970s, via a detective story told in the styleless style of an airport thriller; England of the present day, in the voice of a crass publisher who wouldn’t be a stranger to a Martin Amis novel; and, in a nameless state in a dystopic future, a transcript of testimony given by a most unusual slave. As the five narratives unfold chronologically — each a story of betrayal and theft, of manipulation and deceit, of human opportunism in its most base and basic forms — each breaks off at some brittle, cliffhanging, character-revealing moment, whereupon the next novella begins, until it, too, breaks off, and then the next. . . .

Apparently, you have no familiarity with Italo Calvino’s amazing work “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” which has the same narrative structure.  Here you had me thinking THIS David Mitchell was doing something unbelievably ground-breaking.  I’m not sure I want to give THIS David Mitchell a try anymore, all thanks to you.  I may just stick with THAT David Mitchell after all.


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