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Ten years ago

The Edinburgh International Book Festival. Part the second: David Mitchell

Not the chappy from Mitchell and Webb but the author of great books such as Cloud Atlas, number9dream, and the new one: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Again, this was question and answer format, and almost exclusively about the new book (which was released on 13 May of this year).

David Mitchell apparently loves Edinburgh. And babies. He interrupted himself a few times (including during a reading from his book) to talk with a small child in the audience. Well, I say with. It was definitely more a case of "at" since the child in question was a bored baby. Edinburgh he described as a "human internet", mostly because he couldn't remember the name of an author of non-fiction who was a great source of information for his new book. A member of the audience shouted it out to him.

Anyway. I digress slightly.

This is a bit more difficult to write about because a lot of what he discussed was history. It's interesting history, but because I only took it down in note form a lot is missing. You'd be better to read the book or research Dejima. ;)

So. About The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. The book is set in the 18th century, when the Dutch were the only Europeans allowed in Edo-era Japan. Even then, however, they were only allowed on the tiny mercantile island of Dejima (near Nagasaki). The story centres around a young clerk (the Jacob in question) and his love affair with a Japanese woman. Obviously, this involves all sorts of taboos and a clash of cultures.

The passage read out was the "cutemeet" (Mr Mitchell was delighted to introduce us to this word, one he picked up in Los Angeles). It featured Jacob, an ape called William Pitt (hehehehe), a severed limb, half of the official population of Dejima, and the Love Interest (hence cutemeet). It was cute. There was a meeting. It was funny. Rebekah wants to read this book.

And then he read another passage - this one shorter and from the end of the book. It was a glorious description of the island, complete with onomatopoeia, rhyming couplets, and earthy imagery. Loved it. Made me want to read the book even more. And, as the author pointed out, it was a nightmare for a man with a stutter to read. He only stumbled a few times.

There were several very funny moments. My favourite goes like this:
- Audience Guy: This is a surprisingly orthodox book for David Mitchell. No experimentation.
- David Mitchell: Well. I never try to be experimental. The books are written in the way that is the best vehicle for the story. However: this book is in three parts. Each part has an "introduction" from one narrative head that doesn't appear elsewhere in the book. And Part 1 is from one point of view, Part 2 from two, and Part 3 from 3. So perhaps it's slightly trickier than you thought. ;)

And the audience erupted with laughter and applause. Take that, Audience Guy!

Another person asked about the title: why is it so bad? Mr Mitchell says he prayed to Noel Redding (from The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and then the title just popped into his head. All along he wanted something Japanese and Dutch and English, and that's what he has. "The Thousand Autumns" is a classical name for Japan, similar to the Emerald Isle for Ireland. Jacob de Zoet is obviously Dutch, and the title is in English. And it scans well. So there you have it. (I think it is nice.)

There was more, a lot more, but it was all history or mechanics of book writing. If you want to know, ask. :)

Oh. And if anyone wants to buy me presents, David Mitchell books will be gratefully accepted. Except Cloud Atlas. I already own that.
Camilla likes this


Camilla,  26.08.10 22:11

And as I have said before, I am terribly, terribly envious. Thankfully, I think the talk is available here (I haven't had time to listen to it yet, but I got it from the site you linked me to, so I am fairly confident.
Tor,  27.08.10 17:38

Maybe I should read this one. Maybe someone I know will get it for their birthday in not too long.

Also, it becomes increasingly clear that I have grossly underestimated the book festival. I thought it was basically a large tent where you could buy books, but it is obviously a lot more. In the future, when I am rich, and have loads of spare time, I'm going to make it a point to spend my Augusts in Edinburgh.
Rebekah,  28.08.10 00:53

I plan to take a week or two off work next year and do it properly.