I love David Mitchell and everything he writes, from Cloud Atlas to Jacob de Zoet to his translation of The Reason I Jump. So I’ll tell you there were times I might not have stuck with this book except for my faith in Mitchell. And I’m glad I did. What you know about a book by Mitchell is you won’t have any idea what to expect.
So what can I tell you about this book? It begins with Holly, a teenager in a small English town, who’s had a falling out with her mother over her older boyfriend. Holly runs away, and as she does, she encounters some mysterious beings, and a vision of her brother disappearing under a bridge.
The thing about this book is the “mystical” parts aren’t half as interesting as Holly herself. Holly is one of the most real characters I’ve ever read. Mitchell can clearly get in the head of a teenager (as we saw in Black Swan Green, a book I’ll need to reread one of these days).
But then, just when I couldn’t put this book down, Mitchell pulls a number on you, jumping to an entirely new set of characters. What’s worse, we go from Holly, who I loved, to Hugo Lamb, who is a truly horrible person. The switch is disorienting, to say the least. It took a while to get to know him, and the more I did, the more I wanted to walk away from this book.
But Mitchell keeps pulling you in. There are time, location, and character shifts, and each one is abrupt. You feel like you’re starting over each time – but gradually there are patterns and relationships that build. There is good and evil, immortality and mind control and mazes. But where Mitchell really excels is at drawing characters like Holly, Ed, and Crispin, characters you’ll wish you knew by the time the book is done.
I shouldn’t say any more about this book, because really the unexpected is what made it such a good read. Like most of Mitchell’s books, it’s extremely ambitious, and some parts worked for me more than others. I found the last part particularly memorable — it’s one of the most chilling depictions of the near future I’ve read lately, making me wonder how much I want to be around 30 years from now. But I won’t say more than that, and maybe that’s too much.