Spirited words

Spirited words

Jefferson Chase circumnavigates the globe with this latest tome.

Whisky & Culture 27 Feb 2009 | Interviews | By Jefferson Chase

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Around the world in nine stories – that’s about the only to describe David Mitchell’s stunningly good 1999 novel Ghostwritten.The individual narratives, starting on a Japanese island and ending on the East Coast of the US, are all subtly interconnected and deal with everything from murderous cults, moneylaundering schemes and artificial intelligence to disembodied spirits and chains of causality and chance.To take the London section of this impossibleto- summarise novel as an example: a struggling musician and serial philanderer, Marco, gets chucked out of the apartment of a woman with whom he’s had a one-night stand.That puts him on the street at the right moment to save the life of a scientist, who will later rescue the planet from annihilation, from an oncoming taxi – a feat the unwitting Marco takes in his stride.Weird. If that chair hadn’t arrived when it did, and Katy hadn’t flipped out and asked me to leave, then I wouldn’t have been at that precise spot to stop that woman being flattened. I’ve never saved anyone’s life before. It felt as ordinary as collecting photographs from Boots the Chemist.In Mitchell’s fiction, everything is connected, and the everyday and extraordinary are difficult to tell apart.To make ends meet, Marco works as a ghostwriter, and he’s going to see his boss.Glance at Tim’s desk and you’ll see everything you need to know…Terminally overpopulated by piles of files and manuscripts, a glass of Glenfiddich you could mistake for a goldfish bowl of Glenfiddich, three pairs of glasses, a word processor I’ve never seen him use, an overflowing ashtray and a copy of A-Z Guide to Nineveh and Ur and The Racing Post.That’s a well-observed description – but what Marco can’t see is that he’s about to get fired because the fallout from a financial scandal triggered by the dead husband of the woman he’s just slept with.Fortunately, chance intervenes with a way for him to pay the rent nonetheless. He’s staked to an evening of roulette by a pair of rich Arabs trying to settle a bet about whether an absolute beginner can do just as well as a seasoned gambler at the game.I was about to lose my casino virginity. I watched the ball bounce and hurl itself around the wheel. What’s the ball like, ghostwriter? Give us a metaphor.Very well. It’s like a genie, spending its fury until there’s nothing left.Or like a wildly imaginative novel, which careens from one surprise to the next without losing its ultimate sense of purpose.Ghostwritten was Mitchell’s first novel, and in the intervening decade, he’s built up enough of a reputation to make Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential artists and entertainers.But I knew nothing of that when I randomly picked up the novel while browsing my favourite used book shop in Berlin. Someone I don’t know dropped it off there, where it waited for indeterminate interval to be found by someone who’d like it.Chance gave me a new favourite author. I suspect that’s an idea that would appeal enormously to David Mitchell.
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