Maybe I’m not supposed to talk about this, maybe it’s okay that I do – there were no firm instructions given for this sort of thing. Last month, after crying and whining to and ultimately threatening my Random House sales rep, I was kindly sent a manuscript copy of David Mitchell’s forthcoming novel, due to be published in the States on June 29, 2010. I don’t want to post a full-on review, filled with information that will ruin things for anyone interested, but I did finish reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet last night. Holy shit, what a book.
All I will say at this point is this: it does not have the complex, head-exploding machinations of some of Mitchell’s past work (Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas esp.) but it does prove that Mitchell has been no fluke – his burgeoning talent has hit full stride at this point and Autumns showcases his immense ability to write in any genre he chooses and blow your socks off in the process. It is set in 1799 on the manmade, Dutch trading post island of Dejima off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan. Jacob de Zoet is a clerk for the Dutch East India Company assigned to Dejima who just wants to do an honest job, make a little money, and work his way back home to his future bride. If only life in a David Mitchell novel were that simple.
The Dutch survive as Japan’s sole trading partner through an uneasy alliance based on the certainty of supplies from the outside world – what happens when something goes wrong on the supply chain? Jacob is faced with internal corruption and vicious political manuevering, the delicate balancing act of the Japanese partnership, a daunting language barrier, the mysterious banishment of the woman he loves, the hushed-up financial collapse of his employer, and an imminent attack by foreign invaders, all of which test the limits of his faith – a faith strictly forbidden in Japan on the cusp of the 19th century. There are multiple narrators throughout, as is Mitchell’s wont, but it is structurally done in such a subtle way that you hardly notice – you are just swept along in the flow, wondering, as a foreigner like Jacob, how much of the lush, inner world of Japan you will be allowed to glimpse.
My god, if this book isn’t the one that earns him that elusive Booker prize…