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David Mitchell

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We have a thread on the Cloud Atlas film, but I could only find passing mentions of David Mitchell's novels.


We have several threads devoted to authors (rather than to individual novels), and that approach is especially appropriate for Mitchell, whose novel all take place in a single gigantic fictional universe. I had noticed a few of the recurrent characters in the Mitchell novels I've read, but in Kathryn Schultz's interview with Mitchell about The Bone Clocks, his most recent novel, she goes into much more detail than I could:



That archipelago has a distinct and highly mobile populace. Mongolian thugs, New Age wackos, investigative journalists, literary snobs, menacing G-men, a sadistic nurse: In total—which is surely not the total, since we are talking some 3,000 densely populated pages here—I counted 23 characters who appear in two or more of Mitchell’s six books. You can, if you care to, track entire family trees. Johnny Penhaligon, a Cambridge student in The Bone Clocks, is the great-grandson of the Captain Penhaligon who appears toward the end of Jacob de Zoet. Jacob’s comrade, the kindhearted Con Twomey, was born Fiacre Muntervary—the ancestor of Mo Muntervary, an MIT professor who shows up in Ghostwritten and again in the new book.


There is a word in literary theory for what Mitchell's doing: metalepsis, the transgression of the boundaries of a fictional world by an object, idea, or character. But there’s not much precedent for how he’s doing it. Among recurrent figures in adult literature, the one who comes closest to behaving like a Mitchell character is Falstaff, ambling from Henry IV to The Merry Wives of Windsor. But if Shakespeare had done what Mitchell is doing, Falstaff would have been the grandfather of Oberon, who would have first appeared as a page boy in Richard III.


she also includes a handy chart:





All of this, of course, makes me want to read/re-read all of Mitchell's books all over again.

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