Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chocoslovakia

So there was this e-mail from Amazon, single-breasted slayer of high street bookshops, informing me that "...customers who have purchased or rated books by Haruki Murakami have also purchased A Boy from Nowhere: v. 1 by David Mitchell."

That's fast work by the boy Mitchell, I thought. It doesn't seem so long ago that I was reviewing his last tome, Black Swan Green.

So, what's this one about?

"This is my story - an account of my life which began in the backstreets of the east end docklands and took me eventually through all kinds of experiences and adventures and raised me to a level that many years ago I thought would be impossible. It is a book that should be read by every young man or girl who comes from a disadvantaged background, as i did, but who still maintains a burning ambition to get on in this world of ours. There is little you cannot achieve provided you have the will and the determination to see things through to the very end."

Ah. I think they've mixed up this chap with the other, Booker-nominated and very definitely Murakami-influenced fellow. Although...

And this is where that whole postmodern, metafictional, let's-play-with-the-notion-of-authorship, every-writer's-entitled-to-a-Pierre-Menard-moment, bloody-Nabokov-got-away-with-it thing tips over into absurdity with a smidgeon of paranoia. Because I couldn't shake off the notion that this memoir might actually be an arch, literary jape by the other David Mitchell. There was something about the blurb on the publisher's website that just seemed too authory to be real:

"Leaving school at 14, as most working class lads did then, and without any educational qualifications the story plots his fight to gain success against all odds and tells how he rose to become UK Director responsible for the sale and distribution of all Czechoslovak confectionery products; this brought him into close contact with the communist world, with spies, and explains how and why he assisted MI6."

I think it's the reference to Czechoslovak confectionery products that does it for me. That's just too good to be real. And the problem with feelings like this is, even if I were to read A Boy from Nowhere, even if I were to meet its author, Mr Mitchell, even if I were to see the MI6 files that detailed the microfilms he secreted among the shipment of Curly-Wurlys from Bratislava (I'm guessing that bit), I'd still have the nagging instinct that the book was fiction, that this was all some benevolent con-trick, and that David Mitchell would whip off his latex mask and be replaced by, uh, the other David Mitchell. Or even the other other David Mitchell, the "...and Webb" one. Or maybe Murakami or Borges or Nabokov, or even Patrick McGoohan.

Poor Mr Mitchell (the confectionery one, that is). He's found himself embroiled in a web of intrigue and confusion that will make his dealings with MI6 seem positively humdrum.

7 comments:

Nick said...

Ho, ho, po-mo. I'd rather read the up-by-my-own-bootstraps-guv Mitchell than open another work by the one responsible for the Murakami pastiche/tribute/remix/rip-off that is number9dream

Robert Swipe said...

I didn't even need to go that far to smell a rattus of the Norvegicus variety, Tim:

"should be read by every young man or girl who comes from a disadvantaged background, as i did"

Only a 'proper' author would attempt to convey working class authenticity in such a glaringly artficial way as using a lower case 'i' for the first person singular.

I reckon it's Morley, meself...


Bob


p.s. wrod vreficifification: slibdo? If it isn't already a real word, it certainly should be....

llewtrah said...

I have a couple of the "boy Mitchell" books lined up (from charity shops/jumble sales). But the confectionery one sounds more interesting ....

... on second thoughts, can I just have some confectionery to review?

Tim Footman said...

But it was a good pastiche, Nick. And be fair, Cloud Atlas is good enough to expunge any number of other sins.

Sounds like a misery memoir without the requisite misery, Bob. And a slibdo is a desire to have sex with someone from Ljubljana.

Read Cloud Atlas, Llewtrah. And when you've finished, have a few Maltesers.

Anonymous said...

I am the David Mitchell who wrote A BOY FROM NOWHERE and I can assure BOB that the error in using a small "i" in the review was not mine. The text quoted I recognise - the errors I do not ! I may have come from a working class background (although what does that mean anymore ? - certainly not what it meant in those hard times before the war) and I may be a boy who managed to climb the ladder of success despite the fact that all the odds were against me but I do know when to use my capitals. Best to read the book and you will be able to judge my grammar.
David Mitchell

Tim Footman said...

Good to hear from you, David, and glad you've discovered the author's number one vice - autoGoogling. But maybe you should have a word with your publishers about proofing their publicity material a bit better. And get Amazon to sort out the confusion with the other chap. I don't know if it will do either of you any favours.

As for the meaning of "working class"... maybe I need to do a post on contemporary Marxism...

David Mitchell said...

Tim - Just one further comment - I only write the books. I have nmothing to do with the sale and distribution of them and therefore I cannot do as you suggest. I can't help it if my name is the same as 'the other one'. But as I am 80 next birthday,and therefore older, I claim first usage of the name.
David Mitchell