David Mitchell, British Sensation

I’ve heard a lot about this guy, David Mitchell, and I expect this Times article that I linked to is going to mean I’ll be hearing a lot more about him. “Cloud Atlas” is supposed to be the kind of fuzzy, silly, David Foster Wallace-ish metafiction that pop-lit-lovers like me eat up.

But this quote from the article caught my eye:

Mitchell’s writing has been compared with that of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Twain, Sterne, Joyce, Nabokov, Pynchon, Salinger, Chandler, DeLillo, Murakami, William Gibson and Ursula K. LeGuin.

That’s, uh, impressive. Mitchell’s been getting a lot of attention from the literary world lately, but when a list that varied (and contradictory, in places) is piled onto one writer, it can seem more like publishers are framing him as a “grab bag” (or straw man, if you like – here, you like books! Here, like this guy! He’s just like all the other authors you love!)  Too many writers just like Mitchell come and go over an 8 or 10-year span, get dubbed a “sensation,” and then never become Updike or Roth or Pynchon. Their books just don’t get read. A few of them deserve to be rediscovered (Paul Theroux, for one) but most just languish on bookstore shelves until they disappear into the system and flatline somewhere in an Amazon warehouse, to be pulled out once or twice a year for someone who vaguely remembers reading “this guy” on a trip fifteen years ago.


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