Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 December 2017
David Mitchell's fiction has become synonymous with a new brand of narrative, one that combines the popular with the avant-garde, the local with the global, and individual with generic forms of subjectivity. His first novel, Ghostwritten, which appeared the year before the new century, with its nine chapters and a coda circling the globe from east to west, immediately identified him as a writer responding to a world transformed by globalisation and climate change. It won the Mail on Sunday John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for a book by a writer under thirty-five. In 2003, with Ghostwritten and number9dream (2001) behind him, Mitchell was selected as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists. With the publication of his third novel, Cloud Atlas (2004), he was being acclaimed as ‘clearly, a genius’ (New York Times) and the book as ‘an exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece’ (Washington Times). Cloud Atlas sold a million hardback copies in North America and half a million in the UK. After the appearance of his fourth novel, Black Swan Green (2006), Time magazine listed him as sixteenth on its list of the hundred men and women ‘whose talent, power, and moral example is transforming the world’, and credited him with having ‘created the twenty-first-century novel’. Since then reviewers have continued to call him ‘the greatest novelist of his generation’, ‘one of the most electric minds alive’ and ‘the best thing to happen to narrative since Daniel Defoe’. Two of his seven novels have been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and a further three long-listed. He is clearly an important, trend-setting twenty-first-century novelist.
Mitchell had an early childhood stammer, which he has said made him begin to ‘live inside myself’ and turn to books. Eventually he studied English and American literature at the University of Kent, and stayed on to write an MA thesis on the postmodern novel. For the next eight years he lived in Japan, teaching English as a second language, and while there took six months off to travel to Europe from east to west, writing the stories he would combine to form his first novel, Ghostwritten. In 2002 he and his Japanese wife settled in Clonakilty, a small coastal town in County Cork, where they continue to live.