Friday, June 11, 2010
1000 Autumns Will Never Be Enough
Ah David Mitchell! He's another author (like my girl Hilary) that I feel like I discovered for the world. Yes, I know that isn't true but how often are feelings and truth at odds? I have been an avid fan of his since his first book, Ghostwritten. How many people have I hand sold his novels to? Incalculable but more than a thousand. So I am going to continue to believe that I should be thanked by all the thousands of David Mitchell fans out there for bringing his brilliance forth to the reading public. And your welcome.
If you have resisted my praise of Mitchell (And given my almost Super Friends caliber of Nag Power how is that possible?) give in now and read The 1000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It is his best book yet, will undoubtedly bring him his 5th Booker nomination and is my new favorite. Autumns is set in 18th century Japan. The Dutch East India Company has the monopoly on trade with Japan and is the only contact that Japan has with the world outside of it's boarders. Jacob de Zoat is an honest, insignificant accountant whose job it is to hide the corruption that riddles the company's offices in Japan. He falls in love with a Japanese midwife, Orito and struggles with a courtship complicated by language and social barriers, kidnapping and laws forbidding fraternization. What else do you need to know plot-wise? Nothing in my opinion. I could lay out more of the characters and events but if you are already interested or a fan there's no need and if you aren't then I will resort to arm twisting, brow beating, nagging and other non-plot revealing tactics.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a first for David Mitchell. This is the first book of his that does not intersect even in a mild way with any of his other novels. Recurring characters and references float in and out of his novels. His books are not what could be labeled a series in the traditional sense. You don't go from book one through to book four and watch the family saga unfold until Lord Earwig finally dies and Penelope inherits. They also are not individual citizens of a common community. There is no fictional cathedral town where the action lives and each book plays out the trials of the butcher's or the vicar's families. Mitchell's books can be read one off and enjoyed immensely but when you read them all you are in on the joke. It's the difference between seeing one painting by artist X verses a room full. The one painting is beautiful, but with the room full you now have the beauty and the language of that artist to drink in.
Most historical fiction has some pot boiler elements and Autumns does too but as exciting as these moments are they are secondary to magnificently refined writing. I can't say enough about how well David Mitchell writes. Given the setting of the novel and that the characters are living in 3 different worlds it's not surprising how much language and translation plays a part in Autumns. The miscommunications from Dutch to Japanese to English and back again give Mitchell wonderful opportunities to play with words. This is a novel to savor. You will fly along on the plot, be captivated by the characters but it's the writing that you will swoon over.
Happy and yet unhappy that I cannot read The 1000 Autumns of Jacob de Zoet again for the first time!
P.S. The comparison of the U.S. cover verses the Brit? I think it's a tie although I'm not hearting either one.