David Mitchell: Critical Essays

This is a first for me. I’m reviewing a book that I haven’t held in my hands – yes, it’s my first e-book. My friend Anthony Levings, the onlie begetter of Gylphi, the new publisher for arts and humanities, sent me an E-Pub version of this new volume of critical essays on David Mitchell, and I’ve been reading it on my iPod.  It’s been an interesting experience, and largely an enjoyable one. I’m still not quite used to turning over the virtual pages with a finger gesture on screen, but I was agreeably surprised by how book-like the experience was. The print is clear and crisp, and I can annotate as I might a physical book. I won’t rehearse here all the pros and cons of ebooks, but suffice to say that this convinced me that the format is viable, useful, handy and attractive.
What of the contents? The volume, edited by Sarah Dillon of St Andrews, arose from a conference held there, the first on Mitchell, and it ranges over his entire oeuvre, including his most recent novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet in Dillon’s introduction.  An added feature, most unusual in books of this type, is a piece by the author under consideration, in which he expresses his delight in the critical attention his work is receiving, as evidenced by this volume. The articles, by an eclectic bunch of academics, demonstrate the variety and complexity of Mitchell’s work. As a particular fan of Cloud Atlas, I was very interested in Will McMorran’s contribution ‘Cloud Atlas and If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller: Fragmentation and Integrity in the Postmodern Novel’ in which he demonstrates some striking parallels between Mitchell’s Matrioshka doll structure and Calvino’s endlessly recursive vignettes. It certainly enhanced my understanding of both Calvino and Cloud Atlas, which I have used as an exemplar of the postmodern novel in my teaching.
‘The Stories We Tell: Discursive Identity Through Narrative Form in Cloud Atlas‘ by Courtney Hopf offers some sharp insights on the self-reflexive nature of Mitchell’s fiction, and ‘Speculative Fiction as Postcolonial: Critique in Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas‘ by Nicholas Dunlop higlighted aspects of those two novels that have been neglected so far in the developing critical response to Mitchell’s work.
It is clear that David Mitchell is a very important contemporary writer, and Gylphi can be proud that they have produced the first critical work about him. I am sure it won’t be the last. Like all good works of criticism, it sends you back to the original texts with a renewed interest and curiosity.  This is an auspicious debut volume for Gylphi’s Contemporary Writers series. I look forward to the next one.

CC BY-SA 4.0 David Mitchell: Critical Essays by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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