Why David Mitchell Makes My Head Hurt (In the Best Way Possible)

Guys, just finished David Mitchell’s newest: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and just had to share my thoughts on it. It is ah-mazing. I don’t know why I haven’t read more of his work, but last year was my first taste of his genius, when I finally worked up the courage to plough my way through Cloud Atlas (it had been sitting on my shelves gathering dust for at least a year previous). So, what did I think of that one? Pretty damn crazy, and also pretty damn good.
Cloud Atlas, if you haven’t had the chance (or the bravery) to read it yet, I warn you now – it gets a little muddy. There are six narrators in all, cursing their way through history with the echoes of each other’s voices at their backs. Your first reaction may be to hit your head against a wall, and that’s ok. You wouldn’t be the first, or the last. But stick with it, and this philosophical map of human power; the way we lust after it, and the way we fall victim to it, makes itself known across the 544 pages. Like I say with all my chunksters, the sense of accomplishment is there, but David Mitchell has this added extra of ‘enlightenment’ for the reader:

“Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. What sparks war? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence, is the instrument of this dreadful will… The nation state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED, nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be.”

Pg 462, Cloud Atlas.


It appears from fan reviews that he likes a fat splash of sci-fi in his novels: I would liken one of the stories in Cloud Atlas to the Eastern movie 2046 (also highly recommended), or maybe a condensed and not entirely westernised version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. There’s another story in Cloud Atlas that speaks of colonialism and this is perhaps where we first see Mitchell’s talent at writing ‘colonial historical fiction’ , later brought to the fore in his first ever one-man story, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

Think feudal Japan on the brink of revolution (westernisation). The island of Dejima, an island just off the coast of Japan set up for the pure purpose of trade. An island that is open only to a select few foreigners, and Jacob De Zoet – a 20-something Dutchman – is one of them. Like Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns is also about the will to power, the subjugation and replacement of a minority culture by a majority culture. And besides the message it conveys about humanity’s greed, there’s also a rollicking good adventure to be had in reading this book.

Every so often, a book comes along that – through some holy fusion of chance – has a wonderfully stylised viewpoint, a hidden message, a set of brilliantly realised and fatally flawed characters, and an historical storyline that is more fascinating than any fantasy. I’m thinking this is one of them!
I did a bit more of an indepth review on my lifestyle blog, if you’re interested in a few further thoughts on the book. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is released at the end of this month with that stunning cover art (it’s sparkly in the flesh!), and while it may be a bit more exxy than your usual weekly read – believe me, it’s worth it, particularly if you’re already a Mitchell fan. And if you’re not, well, chances are you will be.

What do you think of David Mitchell? Does he deserve the critical praise he receives for his works? Do you have a favourite David Mitchell book? Let me know, so I can make a decision about which to read next!