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Literature / Ghostwritten

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Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?

"We're all ghostwriters, my boy... We all think we’re in control of our own lives, but really they're pre-ghostwritten by forces around us."
Tim Cavendish

Ghostwritten is the first novel by David Mitchell, published in 1999. The story is made up of nine loosely connected short stories ranging from Japan to New York. Most of the stories take place around the turn of the 21st century, although two of the stories begin early in the 20th century. Each part functions on its own as a complete story, but the events of the stories interlink and overlap countless times.

The nine narrators are, in order: a cult member living in Okinawa, Japan; a record-shop clerk and saxophonist living in Tokyo; a corrupt British businessman in Hong Kong; a tea shack owner living on a Holy Mountain in China; a "noncorpum" entity in Mongolia; an art thief in St. Petersburg; a drummer in London; a quantum physicist in Clear Island, Ireland; and a late-night radio DJ in New York City.


Ghostwritten discusses many themes, including the role of chance and fate in life.

This book contains examples of:

  • Darker and Edgier: Perhaps the least heartfelt of all Mitchell's works. Most of the main characters aren't all that likeable and the narrative doesn't hold anything back.
  • Freak Out:
    • When the well-meaning noncorpum entity in the fourth part attempts to talk to his hosts, several of them believe they are hearing voices and go insane.
    • Experienced by Margarita, the narrator at the end of the St. Petersburg chapter, after Jerome kills Rudi, Margarita kills Jerome, and Suhbataar phones the police, leaving Margarita alone:
    None of this happened. None of this really happened.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Nine major characters including minor/supporting characters in each story. Double when some of it even appears in the other story.
  • No Ending: All of the chapters ended abruptly. While not all of them, most of it are left unsolved or ended immediately when their actions began.
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  • Parental Abandonment: Satoru, the narrator of the second chapter. His mother was a Filipino prostitute deported after his birth; he never knew his father.
  • Rape as Drama: The female narrator in the Holy Mountain story when she was young.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The plot of the first part of the novel resembles the 1995 Sarin gas attack in Tokyo.
  • Screw Destiny: A view held by Marco, the narrator of the London chapter. Possibly a view that David Mitchell expresses throughout the book as well.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The noncorpum entity in the fourth part is implied to have once resided in the body of Jorge Luis Borges.
    • A minor character was reading War and Peace.

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