Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

ghostwrittenI have strong but mixed feelings about David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten.

I love his style and the way he structures this collection of inter-related stories, but some of the content of those stories is jarringly crude.

It’s a similar issue I’ve found with a lot of Stephen King’s books, but unlike King, Mitchell’s occasional use of crudity doesn’t come across as gratuitous but plays a consistent part in revealing character. It’s not to my taste, but I can see the purpose it serves.

Apart from that issue, I found more than enough to enjoy in Ghostwritten. While at times individual stories seemed unfinished, there are clues in following (and even preceding) stories that provided some resolution: incidental characters in one story reappear as major players in another; ripples from events here can become significant there.

Part of the pleasure of the book is re-meeting people who it seemed had been left behind in an earlier part of the book, even if their re-introduction is fleeting and they merely pass through a scene with apparently no effect. They bring an interconnectedness that highlights the roles that chance and choice play in lives of protagonists. Coincidental connections, brief meetings can be insignificant to one, but life changing (even lifesaving) to the other, setting the path for important events to come.

There are some similarities in style to Mitchell’s later book Cloud Atlas, another novel constructed from a collection of intersecting shorter stories in which the shadows of characters’ lives are cast beyond their individual stories. Some characters from Ghostwritten also reappear in Cloud Atlas and other Mitchell books, extending character inter-relationships beyond an individual novel. It’s an aspect of Mitchell’s work that I love, and it’s something I’d previously seen in Tim Winton’s work. I find it creates a sense of authenticity to their fictional worlds, where the lives of people can carry on beyond the experiences that made their own stories worth telling, and how they can play some part in the stories of others.

It’s the kind of thing I think I would have tried myself if I’d been more diligent and persistent with my hope of being a writer, if I’d been disciplined enough to push myself to write despite the lack of deadlines and the need to complete obligatory assignments: those things that forced me to be productive in my university years.

Books (and writers) like those mentioned above excite me – but also stir a sense of regret. They are reminders of why I wanted to be a writer, but also of the opportunities I let slip by.

Another reason for mixed feelings.

The Dreamwalker’s Child, Steve Voake

dwcI took another short break from my reading about WWI. This time I wanted something not related to warfare and the military, so I turned to a fantasy novel for children that I could get through reasonably quickly.

However my escape from war and weaponry  wasn’t quite successful. because the story climaxed with a military attack, although the hardware in The Dreamwalker’s Child has an interesting difference to that in the histories I’ve been reading.

Regaining consciousness after a cycling accident Sam Palmer finds himself in an unfamiliar landscape where he is pursued caught and imprisoned. He is befriended by Skipper, a young girl in the next cell and together they face a conspirators determined to wipe humans from the face of the earth.

Sam discovers he is no longer in the world he knows but has somehow been transferred to Aurobon, whose inhabitants have the ability to move between worlds and have adopted the role of keeping the earth’s ecosystems in balance.

The book’s villain the evocatively named Odoursin has discovered a prophecy that he interprets as foretelling the destruction of mankind on earth, and he believes he is the one who can help bring about its fulfilment; leaving him as the heir and beneficiary of all of earth’s resources. However, the prophecy requires the involvement of the Dreamwalker’s child, assumed to be Sam, who Odoursin arranges to snatch from earth to Aurobon to facilitate the prophecies fulfilment.

For a while I thought The Dreamwalker’s Child had hints of Christian references, but before too much could be made of them, the author drew the story into a philosophical mix of environmental ideas and green “spirituality” that occasionally (with subtlety) questioned the Christian viewpoint.


Gallipoli, Peter Fitzsimons

gallipoliPeter Fitzsimons’ book is probably the Gallipoli account I should have read first.

It covers the major aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, from its planning, through the battles and then on to the evacuation that brought it to an end. There are also the differing viewpoints of the main combatants involved: Turks and Germans, as well as men of various ranks among the British and Anzac “invaders”.

It was Fitzsimons who first made me aware of the blatantly obvious (but mostly overlooked) reality, that the last word in my previous sentence is a very appropriate description of the Gallipoli campaign. The Turkish fighters were in fact defending their homeland against an invasion force.

Arguably, Fitzsimon’s style makes this book a better general introduction to Gallipoli than the Les Carlyon book of the same title* that marked the starting point my Anzac journey. Both books are lengthy and cover a large number of complex inter-related events and the actions of many individuals and groups, but Fitzsimons seems to do it in a more accessible way.

Then again, his book had an advantage – I had already become familiar with a lot of the Anzac story before I picked it up. When I started Carlyon’s book I knew nothing at all about the subject, so the process of piecing events together wasn’t so simple and therefore the book took more effort to follow. Maybe Fitzsimons’ book was easier because of what I’d already learned through Carlyon.

Troops, supplies and tents along the beach at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Troops and supplies at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Fitzsimons is a journalist, and throughout Gallipoli he divides chapters into smaller sections with “newspaper headlines” marking out different topics or viewpoints within the text. These headlines start with the relevant date and then give a hint of the events covered in the section that follows, such as this one leading up to the landing of ANZAC troops:


I found these headlined sections helpful, not only as cryptic teasers regarding what I was about to read, but also as convenient resting points, where I could pick up or put down the book depending on the amount of time available for reading.

Fitzsimons shows a lot of respect for the Anzac men and the place in the story of Australia’s sense of identity, but he does so without glorifying the campaign into which they were thrown. He leaves no doubt that the invasion was ill-conceived, poorly managed, incompetently led and destined to fail. He shows that the troops persisted against impossible odds that saw a large percentage of them killed or seriously wounded, while often those directing their actions remained in safety, making decisions without actually knowing what was being faced by the men they were sending to their deaths.

fromelles-pozieresI still have two or three more Gallipoli books to get through including Gallipoli Air War by Hugh Dolan and In Great Spirits, the WWI diary of Archie Barwick, but I’m now looking forward to Fitzsimons’ next book Fromelles & Pozieres which I’ll use as my introduction to the Anzac involvement on the Western Front. I already have an autographed copy pre-ordered.

gallipoli PF


* see here: Les Carlyon