David Mitchell's Ghostwritten...help me decipher it?
September 7, 2023 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a big Mitchell fan and just finished Ghostwritten for the first time. I'm a fast reader and generally like to re-read books to fully understand/remember them, but I am a bit perplexed by this one and would love some insight.

******Spoilers****** Like I understand the very Mitchell-esque connection between the stories and noncorporal entities (shout out to Luisa Rey), but I feel like I am missing some things. I found a few things online that discussed how the Zookeeper is the sentient AI type of "entity" that Mo Munavary wanted to create at the end of her chapter, but then someone else thought that the Zookeeper was the same noncorporal that had its own chapter earlier on. Another person said that every chapter is written by a noncorporal that lives within each chapter's narrator, hence the title. I will be giving the book a re-read sometime soon, but would love to hear some thoughts on this, or any resources pointing to Mitchell himself discussing it. Thanks booklovers!
posted by Molasses808 to Media & Arts (5 answers total)
*** SPOILERS*** I loved this book so much, especially Mo's story. And I firmly believe that the Zookeeper was the AI entity that she created as a failsafe for her weapons project.
posted by nkknkk at 4:49 AM on September 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I really don't think that the noncorporeal entity that we met in the Mongolia chapter wrote the other chapters - that entity was a pretty clearly defined character, and each chapter/section also had strong and clear characters that were obviously separate. Though the title does make a strong case against that idea.

In general, I think that Mitchell's thesis - expressed through his form - is that everything is connected. He offers us light connections between seemingly disparate sections. As I recall, Ghostwritten felt a little looser - an initial experiment with this - than Cloud Atlas did, where everything was nested, though connected by similarly light strands.

And yeah, Zookeeper was Mo Muntervary's creation.
posted by entropone at 5:01 AM on September 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I agree with nkknkk and entropone here: the Zookeeper was definitely Mo Muntervary's AI. I think things are less clear on the question of the noncorporeal being. When I first read the book (20ish years ago when I was in college) I had a theory that the being itself was the connection between all the different stories, that it was switching bodies from character to character and that was what linked all the chapters together. But I re-read the book a couple years ago and didn't find much evidence for that hypothesis, in the end. My feeling is that the noncorporeal entity is a one-off (in the context of Ghostwritten, at least).

Incidentally, during the pandemic I did a sequential re-read of all of Mitchell's novels, and I picked up on so many interconnections that had escaped me on previous reads. It was really just a magical experience to immerse myself in the totality of it. I kept notes trying to keep track of it all, with the intention of turning it into a wiki, but I never got to the hard part of actually building it.
posted by number9dream at 5:47 AM on September 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm going to agree with number9dream (ha! eponypropos?) on the identity of the Zookeeper, and the feeling that the entity connects a couple of the stories, but not all of them. On reread the connectedness seemed looser than I had imagined the first time through. I'm a bit fuzzy on it though because I did a similar re-read during the pandemic (starting after finishing Utopia Ave) and complete with notes and cross-referenced characters. I have more of a big picture sense of all of the books now though, rather than detailed memories of each. I can highly recommend it to get the feel for how real, and yet how tenuous the connectedness is within the Mitchell Universe.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:56 AM on September 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

agree that zookeeper was the AI on steroids that Mo helped bring to life, and not the noncorporeal narrator from Mongolia. it does seem obvious that that's a noncorporeal showing up almost at the end, calling in to Bat's show and interacting with zookeeper. (he says his friends call him arupadhatu.) someone online has tried to make the case that the same noncorporeal appears in every chapter, and that arupadhatu is the same dude from mongolia, but the tones of the two seem too different. then again, this same someone points out that Mo -- Mo M. -- is zookeeper's mom, which is kind of fun.

it seems more likely that arapadhatu could be one of the anchorites from bone clocks, if mitchell was playing that long a game. he does say that he's encountered five other noncorporeals, but makes them sound more like horologists. 'they regard me as the fallen angel. they squander their gift.' so maybe pfenninger, the first anchorite?
posted by troywestfield at 12:33 PM on September 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

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