The Überbook

Or The Big Summer David Mitchell Reread

Of the people I know and the BookTok people I see on the internet, I’m the only one obsessed with David Mitchell. This baffles me. For example, it shocks me that there is almost no useful information on the David Mitchell fandom wiki.

I adore David Mitchell’s books. I love the rich, complex characters; I love the vivid historical fiction; I love the splash of fantasy and science fiction; I love the clear-eyed predictions of our future as a species and society. But my very favorite thing is that all of Mitchell’s books take place in the same universe. This leads to characters waltzing into and out of his various novels, recurring themes, and fun Easter eggs.

In a note at the end of The Bone Clocks, Mitchell addresses his recurring characters saying if he were to create a mega-book of all his works, he would call it The Überbook (hence the title of this post). Mitchell discusses how the recurring characters started off small, partly as a way to not have to invent whole new people every time he needed another character (why not borrow an already created character from one of this other works?), but continued as he likes to imagine all of his characters living in the same universe. You do not have to read all of his books or read his books in a certain order to understand what’s going on. Each book stands alone. I do not believe Mitchell wrote all eight novels with the intention that they be treated like the Marvel Cinematic Universe in timeline order. This did not stop me.

I decided this summer to reread all eight of Mitchell’s novels. But not just reread them, I organized the sections and chapters of each novel into chronological order and I read them in that order, ping-ponging between books where necessary. I also began a big spreadsheet, where I attempted to track recurring characters and themes and keep all the insights I had doing this project.

I had great fun with my nerdy little project. The only problem was that I began this project knowing there were connections, but not really knowing what I was looking for during each reread. This, along with changing the way I entered information into the spreadsheet part of the way through, has led to some inaccuracies in my spreadsheet and the feeling that I need to start over and read everything again. I also am writing this post after I’ve moved. I read all the books before I moved and I left them at my parents’ house, so I’m writing this post with aid of my spreadsheet, but without the aid of the copious notes I took in my copies of each of Mitchell’s books.

But for now, I’ll share with you what I have so far.

I realize that the embedded spreadsheet is difficult to look at on this webpage. I don’t know enough about WordPress to fix that, so here is the link to look at in Google Docs.

About each book

I think it might be useful here to give a super-duper brief summary of each book for those who haven’t read all of them.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
In 1799 a young Dutchman working for the East India company lives in Deijima, where the Dutch are trying to establish trade with the Japanese. Jacob de Zoet fights Dutch corruption and navigates xenophobia from both the Dutch and the Japanese. He falls in love with a young midwife and medical student named Orito Abigawa. In the mountains near Nagasaki, the sinister Abbot Enemoto is running a secret cult. When Orito is abducted it’s up to Jacob and Uzaemon Ogawa, one of the Japanese translators, to save her and stop Enemoto.

The Bone Clocks
The Bone Clocks follows Holly Sykes, who on a fateful day in 1985, offers sanctuary to a woman she meets on the road. The woman’s soul sleeps dormant in Holly’s psyche until Holly can help a group called the Horologists, who’s souls remember all their past lives, defeat the Anchorites, a group who consume others’ souls in order to be immortal.

Made up of ten interconnected vignettes, Ghostwritten explores the world and its interconnections. It follows a terrorist in Okinawa, who calls a music shop in Tokyo where two young people fall in love and move to Hong Kong, where they are seen by a businessman, whose maid’s grandmother lives on a mountain in Sichuan Province, China, and was host to a disembodied soul, who searches Mongolia for where it belongs, and on its journey is hosted by a KGB operative, who stops a museum heist in St Petersburg and kills a man whose friend in London is having his life biographied by a ghostwriter, who saves a physicist from getting hit by a car, who goes on to invent an advanced AI, that talks to a late night radio host, who also speaks to the terrorist from the beginning. And I know that was like the worst run on sentence ever. Fight me.

Cloud Atlas
Six interlocking stories examine reincarnation and the circularity of time. The stories follow a young lawyer on a sea voyage from New Zealand to San Francisco in 1849, an ambitious composter working as an amanuensis in 1931 in Belgium, a shrewd journalist investigating a report on a new nuclear power plant in 1975 near San Francisco, a publisher who through a wacky chain of events ends up incarcerated at an old folks home in Hull in 2012, a clone trying to lead a revolution in 2145 in Seoul, and a young tribesman living in a primitive society 106 Winters after the Fall, or some kind of nuclear catastrophe.

Utopia Avenue
In the late 1960s a folk rock band is formed of bassist Dean Moss, guitarist Jasper de Zoet, pianist Elf Holloway, and drummer Griff Griffin. The novel follows their formation, hand chosen by manager Levon Frankland, and their origins playing in clubs to their meteoric rise to fame. Don’t worry, there are disembodied souls and Horologists in this one too; it’s not just your average rock’n’roll narrative.

Slade House
Soul carnivores Norah and Jonah Grayer live in Slade House and hunt an unsuspecting person once every nine years. Once they’ve entrapped their prey, they consume the person’s soul, so that they can live on indefinitely.

Number9Dream is the coming of age of Eiji Miyaki, who moves to Tokyo hoping to find his father, whose identity is unknown to him. Eiji must learn to let go of the grief and guilt associated with his twin sister’s untimely death and his anger at his mother who abandoned him and his sister, and to find new love and connection. And if that sounds relatively normal compared to the other Mitchell books, I assure you, weird shit does happen.

Black Swan Green
The coming of age of Jason Taylor in the village of Black Swan Green in Worcestershire, England. Jason must deal with a stutter, middle school bullies, and his parents’ crumbling marriage by having the courage to stand up for what is right and take responsibility for his own actions. This one is probably the most ‘normal’ of Mitchell’s books, but don’t worry, there are still recurring characters and some weird dreamy sequences (not as weird as the dreamy sequences in Number9Dream, but still).

Music in Mitchell’s books

One thing I realized I should be doing as I read, was making a Spotify playlist. Mitchell is a music enthusiast. Many of his characters are musicians or composters (Robert Frobisher, Marco, Satoru, the band Utopia Avenue, etc.), and it’s clear from the way he writes that he loves music. Many songs are referenced throughout Mitchell’s works. If I’d thought of it earlier, I would have made a playlist that featured every song mentioned in one of his books. But this will have to be something I do on the next read-through. For now, here is a playlist compiled from ones other people have made on Spotify pertaining to several of his books and added to by me.

Something else to note is Mitchell’s auditory style of writing. Certain sections contain heavy use of rhythm, rhyme, onomatopoeia, and alliteration. This most often happens when the POV character is a musician but notably appears a few other places. In the “Sloosha’s Crossing” section of Cloud Atlas, for example, Zachry’s voice represents a future where humans have regressed to small primitive tribes after a nuclear fallout. Mitchell’s use of rhythm, rhyme, onomatopoeia, and alliteration in this section signals a return to oral storytelling and more primitive living, underscoring the theme of the circularity of time in Cloud Atlas.

Throughout Utopia Avenue we get a lot of onomatopoeia, which makes sense because all of the POVs are musicians uniquely concerned with sound, but in Jasper de Zoet’s POV this is heightened. Hidden in Jasper’s psyche is a noncorporeal being, the soul of Abbot Enemoto from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Enemoto is always knocking in Jasper’s mind, intent on killing him in revenge for his ancestor’s defeat of Enemoto in 1800. The constant onomatopoeia of the knock-knocks serves to heighten the tension throughout the novel.

In Number9Dream, in the chapter called “Study of Tales,” Eiji Miyaki stays in the house of a deaf author and he reads some of her short stories. The short stories are about an anthropomorphic goat named Goatwriter, and they are full of linguistic playing with rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration. Goatwriter also has a stutter which contributes to the rhythm of the language. There are several notable things about this section, I think. First is that the author (Mrs. Sasaki’s sister) is deaf, but through her writing creates auditory patterns. There’s also Goatwriter’s stutter, which is a recurring theme; Jason Taylor from Black Swan Green also has a stutter, and David Mitchell himself grew up with a stutter. Though Jason works on overcoming his stutter, Goatwriter leans into it to create the unique rhythm of the stories. Then there is the name Goatwriter, which can’t help but bring to mind the word ghostwriter. Ghostwritten is obviously the title of one of David Mitchell’s other books, in which one character, Marco, is a ghostwriter (working for Timothy Cavendish in the London section). I don’t know that Mitchell necessarily meant for that to be a connection, but I do think in Eiji’s coming of age by the end of Number9Dream, he has learned to write his own story, so to speak.

Locations in David Mitchell books

Something else I love about David Mitchell books is their global nature. Several of his books take place in a series of related locations, and locations reappear in multiple books. I decided to plot important locations on a Google Map. Once again, this map is not exhaustive, as I’m sure I forgot some locations. Each book is on its own layer and its pins match the color coding in the spreadsheet. Locations that appear in multiple books are in yellow.

If you’d like to visit the map and turn on and off the layers, you can see the map here.

Recurring animal friends

Apart from recurring characters, Mitchell has a few recurring animals. The moon-gray cat is the first one I noticed. The moon-gray cat is an omen, signaling good or bad luck for the character that sees it. For example, the moon-gray cat leads Orito Abigawa to safety in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. It saves Ed Brubeck’s life in The Bone Clocks when his hotel in Bagdad is bombed. It appears to Jason Taylor from Black Swan Green before he successfully completes the Spooks. Whenever the moon-gray cat appears dead though, it’s a bad omen. Jason Taylor sees it dead before he breaks his grandfather’s watch. Nathan Bishop from Slade House sees it before he is killed. Dean Moss from Utopia Avenue looks for it, but can’t find it shortly before he is killed. I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list of the moon-gray cat’s appearances, because I didn’t know I was looking for them.

Another animal that appears periodically is the Fat Rat. This is another one that I wasn’t looking for and only realized too late that I should be keeping track of. Fat Rat appears when a character appears to be hallucinating, or dealing with something particularly traumatic. Characters see Fat Rat and hear the Fat Rat responding to them, either their spoken words or thoughts. Orito Abigawa speaks to Fat Rat in the shrine on Mt Shiranui, where she is being held captive. Zachry also speaks to Fat Rat in the Sloosha’s Crossing section of Cloud Atlas after the Kona have attacked and destroyed most of Zachry’s village. I want to say Fat Rat appears in Number9Dream too, in the chapter “Reclaimed Land,” but I’m not certain.

Recurring themes

The most obvious of Mitchell’s themes are reincarnation and the circularity of time, the idea that we cross and recross paths with each other. But another one that comes up often is the futile search for Paradise or Utopia. Mitchell also fights back against the idea of basic human nature as “dog eat dog.” Many characters throughout his books share the idea that “the weak are meat, the strong do eat,” or a kind of Social Darwinism that is used to justify all kinds of atrocities. Mitchell is always pushing back against that idea that that is basic human nature. Almost all of Mitchell’s books deal in some way with racism or xenophobia or other types of prejudice.

Questions I still have

I’ve now read Cloud Atlas 5 times, Ghostwritten, Black Swan Green, and The Bone Clocks 3 times each, and all of his other books twice and I still feel like there’s more to find. If I was stuck on a deserted island, I’d take David Mitchell’s collected works. I still have questions:

Who is Hilary V. Hush? In Cloud Atlas, each segment is discovered by the protagonist in the next segment (Adam Ewing’s journal is found by Robert Frobisher, whose letters are found by Luisa Rey, whose story is read by Timothy Cavendish, whose memoir is turned into a movie watched by Sonmi, whose story becomes the religion of Zachry’s people). But Timothy Cavendish reads Luisa Rey’s story in the form of a crime novel written by Hilary V. Hush. Who is that? Why didn’t Luisa write it? It makes it seem like Luisa is a fictional character written by this person, but Luisa appears as a successful journalist in Utopia Avenue and Ghostwritten. In the movie, the submitted manuscript is written by Javier, Luisa’s neighbor’s son. So who is Hilary V. Hush?

When is the Night Train segment of Ghostwritten set and how long does it last? And to that end, when is the entirety of Ghostwritten set? I estimated 1999 which is when the book came out, but it is never actually mentioned. The Night Train section does take place over several years, as the Zookeeper calls in about once a year. Bat Segundo states that he’s been running the show for eight years on the night of the apocalypse, so are we meant to believe that section runs from 1999-2007? And let’s not forget, Bat was on the radio back in 1968 when he interviews Utopia Avenue. Dwight Silverwind appears in this segment and is killed by the Zookeeper. We know Dwight Silverwind is alive in 2004 when he meets Aoife Brubeck in Cloud Atlas, so at least that part and everything after it in Night Train has to take place after 2004. And this of course begs the question of when the very last segment in Ghostwritten takes place. It appears right after Night Train, so I would assume it takes place after.

How does the Mongolian heal Jasper de Zoet if they never go to Europe? In the Mongolia section of Ghostwritten, the Mongolian tells the reader about all the places they have drifted as a soul without a body between 1937 and 1999. The Mongolian states that they never went to Europe. But in the 1960s, Jasper de Zoet is helped by the Mongolian, who helps subdue Abbot Enemoto for a time inside Jasper’s head. I think this is just a plot hole. I think Mitchell just forgot that he had said that about the Mongolian in Ghostwritten, as that was written long before Utopia Avenue. We know there are other noncorpora out there (one calls into Bat Segundo’s show) but I doubt we would have more than one who calls themself the Mongolian.

Why is Meronym the only character in Cloud Atlas who has a comet birthmark but is not the POV in her section? This is interesting because in the movie, Zachry has the birthmark. Also on the subject of the movie, are we to assume that Zachry and Meronym leave earth for the moon at the end? And if so does that mean Meronym is an alien? Because I don’t get any of that from the book. At the end of their section in the book, Zachry leaves his decimated village and goes to live with the remaining people from Meronym’s community on another of Hawaii’s islands. But Meronym’s people come from Prescience Isle, formerly known as Iceland, as we learn from The Bone Clocks.

So I guess now I’ll go fix the David Mitchell fandom wiki???

My Favorite Books

It’s the Book Blog’s 1 year anniversary! I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of what I’m reading since I was in high school, but I’ve really enjoyed writing a more complete review of every book I read and sharing it on my blog. I hope you’ve been enjoying it too! I’ve put together this special post of my favorite books to celebrate the first anniversary of the Book Blog. Here’s to many more!

This list only includes stand alone novels. I’ll post my list of favorite series sometime in the future. Since it’s a long list, I won’t write a full review for each one. It is safe to say that all of these books are Book Hangover kind of books.

What are your favorite books?

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The perfect book. A star falls. A young man promises his love he’ll bring back the fallen star. Witches. Princes. Pirates.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is my favorite author and I adore all his books, but I limited myself to these two for this post. A family of remarkable women. A pond that is also the world.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Six interlocking stories that explore reincarnation and the echoes of lives through time. Every bit as wonderful as the movie and full of so much more.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
David Mitchell is probably my second favorite author, and like Neil Gaiman, I love all his books, but I just picked two for the post. Everyone is reincarnated, but some souls remember. Mind-bending.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
In World War II Germany, a family shelters a Jew and a little girl steals books from pyres.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
When a terrorist attack destroys part of the Met and kills his mother, Theo walks out of the gallery with a painting under his arm. Now what?

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
A saint in the desert performs miracles. But what does a miracle cost?

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The pony swim at Chincoteague Island if it had demon murder horses.

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter
He’s a singer, he’s an artist, he’s a novelist. There’s nothing Josh Ritter can’t do. A young man, his baby, an angel, and memories of the war.

Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
The Pied Piper was a scam and Maurice the cat was in charge. Hilarious. Truly a gem.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
One sister is dying from leukemia. Another sister is genetically modified to be her match. What if you were born to save your sister? Sad, thought provoking.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A wizard takes a young woman from the village every 10 years in exchange for protecting the village from the Wood. But Agnieszka will be the last girl.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
The tale of Rumplestiltskin as you’ve never seen it before.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Mysterious books, keys, acolytes. Love. Fate loves Time. Many tales intertwine.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
An incredible traveling circus. Two magicians face off. Magic ensues.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Trojan War from the perspective of Patroklus. Gay and slaps.

Circe by Madeline Miller
The story of Circe, the witch on the island who turns Odysseus’s men to pigs. But her story doesn’t end there.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A boy and a tiger on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.

The Realm of Possibilities by David Levithan
A mosaic of poems that tells the stories of a group of high school students. Beautifully written.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The perfect fantasy book. Cinderella, if Cinderella had to obey any direct command she was given.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester
A treat for anyone who loves words. A boy receives a mysterious tollbooth and goes on an adventure.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones
Rather different from the Ghibli film, but just as delightful. A wizard, a young woman under a spell that makes her an old woman, a witch, a fire demon.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The perfect princess book. Young women competing to catch the eye of a prince actually learn to love and support one another.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi***
Two sisters. One a princess in Ghana, one sold into slavery bound for the United States. Two diverging family lines followed through history to the present day. Exquisite.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
A meditation on mental illness.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Beautifully tragic. Two teens with cancer fall in love.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Quirky, funny, odd, just like the movie.
I reviewed this one in the July 2020 Book Blog.

The Witches by Roald Dahl
A classic.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I know Orson Scott Card isn’t a great person, but this book is amazing. Prodigy children protect the earth from alien forces.

The Martian by Andy Weir
A man gets stuck on Mars alone and has to figure out how to survive until he can be rescued.

A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman
An old man finds new meaning in life from blossoming friendship with immigrant neighbors.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
There was a time when I would finish this book and just start it over again. Easily the best book Albom has ever written (don’t read the sequel; not good). Introspective, poignant, lovely writing.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas***
After witnessing a cop shoot her friend, a young Black woman learns to use her voice.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo***
A teenaged mother with a flair for flavor and a talent for fine cooking.
I reviewed this in the July 2020 Book Blog.

The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley
A princess who is also a seer. A warrior who is a former slave. Friendship, love. Simple, neat storytelling.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
About a teen dying of mad cow disease. Odd, charming, hilarious.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston***
Gay and slaps. Son of the US president falls for the Prince of Wales. A secret love that can’t be kept secret.
I reviewed this in the January 2021 Book Blog.

I cut myself off but I wanted to keep going.

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover. Every book in this post is a Book Hangover Book.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read Homegoing to learn more about the African diaspora and the effect of slavery. Read The Hate U Give to learn more about police brutality. Read With The Fire On High to see a new side of teenaged pregnancy. Read The City We Became to appreciate the diversity that makes New York the magical place it is. Read Red, White & Royal Blue for a lovely, happy, queer romance.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.