The thing that first caught my attention about "Ghostwritten" was the cover photograph, a brooding shot of a man standing at the edge of a cliff, with the mushroom-shaped tree on the opposite rock face in mute counterpoint. The reason I took it home, however, was the concept - a novel split into nine stories, each one bearing some tenuous connection to the ones preceding and following it. And I wasn't disappointed - "Ghostwritten" turned out to be simply wonderful, a thought-provoking extravaganza of words and emotion that stayed with me long after I closed the book.
"Ghostwritten" begins in Okinawa, in the weeks following the nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and is narrated by one of the perpetrators of the crime as he struggles to lose himself on the island. From here, the narrative shifts smoothly to Tokyo, where two young people fall in love to the sounds of Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington, and from there to Hong Kong, Mongolia, Petersburg and London. The protagonists in each case are different - a nuclear physicist, an old woman on a mountain, a corrupt lawyer, a motormouth disc jockey and even a couple of supernatural entities - and the writing style changes gears flawlessly, from 18th-century folklore to 20th-century suspense and 21st-century science-fiction.
It is this diversity that makes "Ghostwritten" such an interesting read - each time you start a new chapter, there's a shift, a change in pace and characters, yet it's so well-written that you're drawn into yet another thread of the writer's web without nary a complaint. It's also a remarkable display of writing skill, especially when you consider the fact that this is a debut novel - the author's proficiency with words, his ability to paint pictures of people and places with just a few words, and the fact that he possesses the psychological acuity to grasp and describe a wide and diverse emotional range, all make for a book that will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night, simply for the insights that it throws on the human experience.
Of all the stories in "Ghostwritten", my favourite was "Night Train", with its strange and chilling mix of new-age techno-savagery and old-school radio patter, played out after midnight in the city that never sleeps. Written entirely as a conversation between a New York radio jockey and an entity known only as the Zookeeper, it is a prime example of a writer who knows exactly what he's doing, and who's enjoying himself tremendously. Go out and get yourself a copy of this book. Now.This article was first published on 06 Nov 2000.