Some lovely stuff in “Ghostwritten” by David Mitchell. I’m about half way through this, Mitchell’s first book. It’s structured like the previous book I read by him, “Cloud Atlas.”
By that I mean that each section starts a new story with new characters and ideas. The difference is that in “Cloud Atlas” it quickly became apparent that every story was related somehow. Not so in “Ghostwritten.” But he still is keeping me engrossed. In fact, I can’t really see how he will tie it all together but supect that he will.
Anyway in the fifth section of the book called “Mongolia” the point of view suddenly switches to that of some kind of spiritual parasite that can switch from body to body. This unnamed narrator is searching for a story that he/she thinks will reveal her/his own story. Consequently he prompts his various hosts to get others to tell stories.
Example: (warning, this is a bit long but worth the read)
Now: long, long ago, the camel had antlers. Beautiful twelve-pronged antlers. And not only antlers! The camel also had a long, thick tail, lustrous as your hair, my darling…..
At that time the deer had no antlers. It was bald, and to be truthful rather ugly. And as for the horse, the horse had no lovely tail, either. Just a short stumpy thing.
One day the camel went to drink at the lake. He was charmed by the beauty of his reflection. “How magnificent!” thought the camel. “What a gorgeous beast am I!”
Just then, who should come wandering out of the forest, but the deer? The deer was sighing.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked the camel. “You’ve got a face on you like a wet sun.”
“I was invited to the animals’ feast, as the guest of honor.”
“You can’t beat a free nosh-up,” said the camel.
“How can I go with a forehead as bare and ugly as mine? The tiger will be there, with her beautiful coat. And the eagle, with her swanky feathers. Please, camel, just for two or three hours, lend me your antlers. I promise I’ll give them back. First thing tomorrow morning.”
“Well,” said the camel magnanimously. “You do look pretty dreadful the way you are, I agree. I’ll take pity on you. Here you are.” And the camel took off the antlers and gave them to the deer, who pranced off. “And mind that you don’t spill any, erm, berry juice on them or whatever it is you forest animals drink at these dos.”
The deer met the horse.
“Hey,” said the horse, “Nice antlers.”
“Yes, they are, aren’t they?” replied the deer. “The camel gave them to me.”
“Mmmm,” mused the horse. “Maybe the camel will give me something, too, if I ask nicely.”
The camel was still at the lake, drinking, and looking at the desert moon.
“Good evening, my dear camel. I was wondering, would you swap your beautiful tail with me for the evening? I’m going to see this finely built young filly I know, and she’s long been an admirer of yours. I know she’d simply melt if I turned up in her paddock wearing your tail.”
The camel was flattered. “Reallly? An admirer? Very well, let’s swap tails. But be sure to bring it back first thing tomorrow morning. And be sure you don’t spill any, erm, never mind, just look after it, all right? It’s the most beautiful tail in the whole world, you know.”
Since then many days and years have passed, but the deer still hasn’t given back the camel’s antlers, and you can see for yourself that the horse still gallops over the plains with the camel’s tail streaming in the wind. And some people say, when the camel comes to drink at the lake he sees his bare, ugly reflection, and snorts, and forgets his thirst. And have you noticed how the camel stretches his neck and gazes into the distance, to a far-off sand dune or a distant mountain top? That’s when he’s thinking, “When is the horse going to give me back my tail?” And that is why he is always sad.
from “Ghostwritten” by David Mitchell