Genre: Post-modern, literary fiction
Synopsis: The story starts with a member of a cult who is on the run then moves to a jazz lover in Tokyo and then to a lawyer in Hong Kong who is in over his head and continues moving through seemingly disparate narratives to the end. However, there are links between the characters – some more subtle than others – and slowly an overarching narrative is revealed.
This is an exceptionally clever book. The range of different voices is astonishing and all are carried off with aplomb, all the more remarkable given that this is Mitchell’s debut novel. As the novel progresses and more of the underlying plot is revealed, the more you have to admire Mitchell’s skill.
As you might expect, with such a novel, some of the characters were more appealing than others. Some I could have read a whole novel about and felt bereft when the story moved on, others I found I just wanted to get through their chapter. This is particularly true of the chapter from the point of view of a spirit (if that is the right word) who has floated from person to person until they are eventually reborn in Mongolia.
However, the overarching narrative kept me reading and I was curious as to how the tale would end. The ending was satisfying whilst also offering a scary commentary on the uses of AI in war. The different narratives investigate different ways of being, different ideas about the soul, about intelligence and about free will. It makes sense then that this novel would end with a machine that is virtually sentient.
Overall, this was an enjoyable novel where the reader had to work in order to put the pieces together and make the links that Mitchell requires. I always enjoy having to work in this way and it certainly made me feel that I wanted to read more of Mitchell’s writing.