A while ago I wrote about the patterns that crisscross David Mitchell’s novels, with particular reference to The Bone Clocks. This was picked up by Nicholas Tam in what I think may be the single best essay about Mitchell’s work that I have read.

I don’t agree with everything Tam wrote, but I agreed with enough of it to make me think a bit more about Mitchell. This brief note is by way of a placeholder, something I need to think further about when (if!) I get the time.

I think I was far too superficial in the patterns I detected within and between Mitchell’s novels. Those patterns are there, all right, but I didn’t pick up on a deeper layer that both underpins and undermines those connections. That is, the shift in ontological status.

Look what happens in Cloud Atlas: we begin the book reading a diary that describes a 19th century sea voyage, and we accept that this is real. But in the very next section the status of that diary is questioned, there is something about it that looks fake. A little later we read an exciting adventure of a California journalist called Luisa Rey; but in the next section that story is found to have been in a novel. Even at the heart of the book, when Sloosha glimpses Sonmi’s confession, isn’t there a sense that what he is seeing is a dramatisation?

And let’s look again at Luisa Rey. When we first encounter her in Ghostwritten she is the author of a series of crime novels; when we meet her again in Cloud Atlas she is the heroine of a series of crime novels.

So the recurring characters move from novel to novel, but they also move from the real into the fictional, and from the fictional into the real.

Where this thought might lead, I have no idea right now. But the idea that nothing is real in David Mitchell’s novels seems to be a thought I must pursue at a later date.

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