David Mitchell - The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet - David Mitchell

David Mitchell and I had not been introduced before. I knew he had written something about clouds and dreams and this looked pretty so I took it home with me. 

It is a book about Jacob de Zoet, who in 1799 arrives as a clerk on Dejima, an artificial island near Nagasaki and the only point of contact between Japan and the outside world. It is also a book about an English ship and a mountain shrine and secret religious cult. It is a book about Orito, Japanese midwife whose face is half burnt but the book's most noble characters seem to fall in love with despite that. This book is about so many things in so many different ways that it is rather hard to write anything coherent about the plot. Mitchell has one hell of imagination (and patience for research) and I was left in awe. “The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is tour de force, and unlike the blurb writers, I don’t use this term lightly. Writing this novel must’ve been a massive undertaking but I am not sure regular human beings like you and me can keep up with Mitchell as he jumps around like a flea. 

The opening chapter blew me off and the first part of the book promised a solid historical novel. Then everything was turned around and we found ourselves in a Japanese shrine taken out straight from an airport bookshop bestseller. It was mysterious and romantic and a little bit silly. I thought: “David, really? I know that authors think they can get away with just about anything in the middle of the book but don’t you think you are pushing your luck a little bit here?”. David took my advice and abandoned the shrine plotline halfway through and took us back to Jacob de Zoet just when we forgot he was supposed to be the main character and stopped caring about him altogether. After an episode on an English ship starring a captain suffering from gout we get to the epilogue with Jacob de Zoet, as though Mitchell was convinced we needed a closure. As far as epilogues go this one was as unnecessary as the epilogue in the last Harry Potter book. 

I really don’t know what to make out of this book. It read easily even if Mitchell has the most bizarre writing style ever. Oh boy, does he love his suspension points... They are everywhere... Sometimes to say that many things happen at once... she looked outside the window... As if we didn’t know that many things can happen at once... the washing machine started the spinning cycle… And on page 383 Mitchell uses suspension points 21 times... My flatmate’s alarm went off but he is still sleeping... 

There was just too much of everything in this book and in the end it seems that all these things have cancelled each other out. Just what was I supposed to get out of this novel? What point (if any) was it trying to make? 
Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy it, at times I enjoyed it a lot, even the airport paperback bits, but I think Mitchell’s imagination can be put to a much better use... Someone flushed the toilet...