david mitchell

Now that I’ve con­fessed to hav­ing a favorite painter, I’m dan­ger­ous­ly close to con­fess­ing that I also have a favorite nov­el­ist.  If I did, it might be David Mitchell, twice short­list­ed for the Book­er Prize (though inex­plic­a­bly not a win­ner).  I was excit­ed to hear that he’d put out a new book, The Thou­sand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and ripped through this one.  It’s expect­ed­ly spec­tac­u­lar.  Like its pre­de­ces­sors, it cre­ates, explodes, and tran­scends style.  It’s not “a” any­thing.  Mitchel­l’s soar­ing use of lan­guage makes you want to read aloud, just to enjoy the raw sounds.  He has a won­der­ful sense of struc­ture across scales– of the nov­el as a whole, of the sec­tions, of the scenes, of the dia­log, and even of the coun­ter­point between phras­es.  Do we pay for this stan­dard of art with a tedious read?– no.  The char­ac­ters are bril­liant­ly ren­dered, the scenery metic­u­lous, the sto­ry propul­sive.  It’s a book to keep you up late.

One review­er described Cloud Atlas (which still remains my favorite of his books) as a “per­pet­u­al dream machine”, a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion I agree with, and one which I think describes his work as a whole.  That review­er also appar­ent­ly clung to a branch, keep­ing his dis­tance artis­ti­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, refus­ing to be swept along and over the falls.  Mitchel­l’s books seem to have all met mixed crit­i­cal recep­tion, some­times char­ac­ter­ized as “genius”, some­times as “unread­able”.  I find the neg­a­tive reviews hard to under­stand, as the joy in Mitchel­l’s writ­ing is so utter­ly infec­tious, and the nar­ra­tive force so pow­er­ful.  He tells a damn good sto­ry.  So Har­ry Mount, Paul Con­stant, I must con­clude that you and your ilk have tin ears, or suf­fer from a fail­ure to delight in nar­ra­tive.  Why are you review­ing fic­tion then?

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