REVIEW – David Mitchell (Edinburgh Book Festival)

A self-proclaimed ‘stammering introverted English novelist’, David Mitchell spent an entertaining hour at the RBS Main Theatre reading from his recently-published novel “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”.

At this Open University event chaired by Steven Gale, we were treated to two passages from the book. The first, a vivid and sense-rich portrayal of a Japanese trading post, was as amusing as it was evocative; it is – as Mitchell explained – the novel’s “cutemeet” moment, where the two main romantic interest characters first encounter each other, whilst grappling with a limb-stealing simian called William Pitt.

The second shorter piece was a highlight: a rhythmic, picture-painting poem evoking all the characters and colour of the floating world in which the action is set.

Mitchell proved to be a charming, self-effacing individual, stopping his reading part-way through to point out an error in the already-published text; or pausing to ensure a baby in the front row of the audience is comfortable.

In the ensuing discussion and q&a session, he described the challenge of balancing intensive, Moleskine-filling research against the structure of historical fiction (“I hide nine-tenths of the research beneath the waterline“); the influence of film editing techniques on contemporary literature; and the story behind the novel’s title (apparently, it came to him after praying to the spirit of Jimi Hendrix Experience guitarist Noel Redding).

Describing the Edinburgh Book Festival audience as a ‘human wikipedia’ as they assisted him place the name of Giles Milton, the author of ‘Samurai William’, Mitchell charmed the sell-out crowd with his warmth and humour, as well as his atmospheric and beautifully-crafted writing.

Review by Keith D

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