Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Thousand Cheers for David Mitchell. . .

There's a really good interview with David Mitchell in Vanity Fair, talking about his fantasic new novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. You can read it here. I saw him speak at the Toronto Reference Library last week and he just charmed the entire audience with his intellect, wit and humility. He's just so darned nice! His latest work is an imaginative, historical novel set in 18th century Japan and following several members of the Dutch East India company as they clash with each other and with the Japanese, in this very closed society. Jacob is a young man serving five years as a clerk in the trading post of Dejima, a small island at the foot of Nagasaki which is the furthest that any Westerner can penetrate into the country. He becomes intrigued by a young Japanese midwife named Orito and blames himself when she's taken against her will to a secretive and isolated nunnery where sinister things are happening. The latter half of the novel details attempts to rescue Orito as the community of Dejima is forced to react to results of power struggles conducted thousands of miles away.
What I think separates Mitchell from a lot of contemporary writers, is his incredible eye for detail which is not used to impress us with his research, but to allow us to fully inhabit his literary world. And no one - absolutely no one - writes better dialogue. His characters are authenticated entirely by the way they speak and this novel - juggling multiple nationalities, languages, and classes - showcases this skill better than any of his previous four. I've recently been fascinated by Japanese history and culture as Cinematheque has been hosting an Akira Kurosawa retrospective for the last two months (I think I've now seen 16 films with a few more to go - it's been a wonderful education) and as you'll read in the interview, Mitchell also watched a few as background research. He also cites manga as an inspiration.
The Booker longlist comes out next week. This novel had better be on it!

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