You know, the virtues of David Mitchell’s most recent novel are almost unreviewable, and it’s because of the reviews that I put off reading it for almost a year. The Globe reviewin particular put me off (“Jason Taylor, 13, is a Holden Caulfield for the Margaret Thatcher era.” GAG). I just didn’t see why I had to spend more of the finite minutes of my life reading another coming of age story about a sensitive, artistic small-town youth, despite how utterly taken I was with both Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten. (Have yet to read Number Nine Dream).
It’s too bad, because it really does avoid almost all of the perils of cliché that the premise holds. But again, it’s almost impossible to talk about it without it sounding like it’s the most awful, clichéd crap. I think the best I can do is to say that it really reads like Mitchell wrote it without ever having absorbed anything else in the genre. Yet it feels somewhat wrong to assume that it’s all autobiographical drawn-from-life stuff, either.
All I can surmise is that much of the material has been sitting in Mitchell’s files for years, and with a few heavily praised and unquestionably non-autobiographical novels with plenty of pomo pyrotechnics under his belt, he felt safe enough to publish this without fear of being pigeonholed as an autobiographical writer of coming of age stories.
And if you’ve been put off by Mitchell’s pomo pyrotechnics in the past (I’m talking to you, Terri Wise), I’ll vouch that there is almost none of that here. Though, for those of you who enjoy that kind of thing, the rather stunning appearance of one of the characters from Cloud Atlas alone is worth the price of admission.