Friday, May 23, 2014

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

With the news that there will be a new David Mitchell novel out in the autumn called Bone Clocks I thought I reblog this review of his last book which I listened to on Audible.
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It took me a long time to finish this audiobook, initially because I wasn't completely convinced by it (and I was only listening to about fifteen minutes a day), then because I got a bit fed up in the middle portion (a change of narrator didn't help) and finally because it was so great that I was rationing my time with it and I didn't want it to end. Yes, it does take a weird left turn about half way in but all the strands come together beautifully, and the last third of the book is fantastic. The Go game scene near the very end had me on the edge of my seat...
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I've been a big fan of David Mitchell since I read Cloud Atlas a couple of years ago. He's one of the most gifted of the new generation of English novelists: intelligent, witty and a master of undemonstrative, elegant prose. Mitchell might actually be the best novelist writing in English today and in only a few years he's produced an impressive body of work. Thousand Autumns tells the story of a young Dutch clerk who gets posted to the tiny Dutch concession in late eighteenth century Nagasaki. He falls in love with a Japanese girl who is the daughter of an impoverished scholar. She gets sent to a convent when her father dies intestate and De Zoet suffers a professional disaster when he refuses to take a bribe. There are many more threads to the tale, but revealing them would spoil the surprises. I haven't read James Clavell's Shogun but if you liked that you'll probably like De Zoet and if you are an admirer of quality fiction this book should be near the top of your reading list. Absolute travesty that this didn't win the 2010 Booker Prize.