Great Britain’s answer to Thomas Pynchon outdoes himself with this maddeningly intricate, improbably entertaining successor to Ghostwritten (2000) and Number9Dream (2002).
Mitchell’s latest consists of six narratives set in the historical and recent pasts and imagined futures, all interconnected whenever a later narrator encounters and absorbs the story that preceded his own. In the first, it’s 1850 and American lawyer-adventurer Adam Ewing is exploring endangered primitive Pacific cultures (specifically, the Chatham Islands’ native Moriori besieged by numerically superior Maori). In the second, “The Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing” falls (in 1931) into the hands of bisexual musician Robert Frobisher, who describes in letters to his collegiate lover Rufus Sixsmith his work as amanuensis to retired and blind Belgian composer Vivian Ayrs. Next, in 1975, sixtysomething Rufus is a nuclear scientist who opposes a powerful corporation’s cover-up of the existence of an unsafe nuclear reactor: a story investigated by crusading reporter Luisa Rey. The fourth story (set in the 1980s) is Luisa’s, told in a pulp potboiler submitted to vanity publisher Timothy Cavendish, who soon finds himself effectively imprisoned in a sinister old age home. Mitchell then moves to an indefinite future Korea, in which cloned “fabricants” serve as slaves to privileged “purebloods”—and fabricant Sonmi-451 enlists in a rebellion against her masters. The sixth story, told in its entirety before the novel doubles back and completes the preceding five (in reverse order), occurs in a farther future time, when Sonmi is a deity worshipped by peaceful “Valleymen”—one of whom, goatherd Zachry Bailey, relates the epic tale of his people’s war with their oppressors, the murderous Kona tribe. Each of the six stories invents a world, and virtually invents a language to describe it, none more stunningly than does Zachry’s narrative (“Sloosha’s Crossin’ and Ev’rythin’ After”). Thus, in one of the most imaginative and rewarding novels in recent memory, the author unforgettably explores issues of exploitation, tyranny, slavery, and genocide.
Sheer storytelling brilliance. Mitchell really is his generation’s Pynchon.