Featured Author: David Mitchell – Sensory Powerhouse

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David_Mitchell_by_KubikDavid Mitchell has received a lot of international public attention lately, thanks to the film adaptation of his novel Cloud Atlas. The film starred Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, and Hugo Weaving. With so many big names attached to the project, how could the author escape interest?

Those in the literary world, however, have been paying attention to David Mitchell ever since his first novel Ghostwritten was published in 1999. It’s a haunting work that tells nine slightly interrelated stories from nine characters. One of the remarkable things about the book (and it was remarkable in many ways), was the difference in style, tone, and voice Mitchell used to tell each story and convey each character. It was immediately clear that Mitchell would be a forceful new talent.

Ghostwritten went on to win the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Best Work of British Literature by an author under 35, and was also shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His second and third novels, number9dream and Cloud Atlas, were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Number9dream was also shortlisted for the Kames Tait Black Memorial Prize. Cloud Atlas won several awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the South Bank Show Literature Prize. Basically, all of his novels have either won awards or been shortlisted for them.

Many of Mitchell’s stories are (at least partly) set in Japan. This is thanks to Mitchell’s time spent living in the country where he taught English. His wife is Japanese, so he maintains strong ties to the country. Mitchell’s son is autistic, which is why Mitchell felt compelled to translate 13-year-old Naoki Higashida’s notes on his personal experience of being autistic. The book is called The Reason I Jump and is highly recommended.

On a personal note

It’s fitting that my first David Mitchell book was his first book. I loved Ghostwritten from the first page. I was enthralled by every character and every story. I often pick up a new book almost as soon as I finish one. But Ghostwritten lingered so powerfully that I couldn’t bear to read anything new for days. I didn’t want to rinse the taste of it out of my mind.

Cloud Atlas also resonated strongly with me, but not as strongly as Ghostwritten. Like Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas maintains a silk-thin thread throughout, but is really several entirely different stories, involving entirely different characters, in entirely different times (it starts in the 19th century and ends in a scary devolved future).

Mitchell has an ability to invest his characters with so much life as to almost make them tangible. You live his stories, you don’t just read them.

I have two more of his books waiting on my bookshelf (number9dream and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet). I’m saving them for the perfect Mitchell moment. I’m savouring the anticipation of reading them.

Should you read him?

If you like the slightly off-centre surrealism of Haruki Murakami then you will like David Mitchell.

If you like stories that are poignant, profound, and thought-provoking, and that provide a full sensory experience, then you will like David Mitchell.

According to Wikipedia, Mitchell is working on a new book that tackles age old issues of life and death, with ‘dollops of the fantastic’. It’s on my wish list already.


Written by Sandy Cosser

Image credit: Mariusz Kubik, via Wikimedia Commons


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