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Going Dutch 

Wednesday, Jul 21 2010
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The malleability of David Mitchell’s voice is striking. Whether writing in hard-boiled slang, postapocalyptic pidgin, or from the perspective of a disenfranchised teen in Thatcher's Britain, he embodies his narrators completely. It’s a feat more suited to a psychic medium than to a novelist, effortlessly shifting voice and genre with every book, and in some cases, from one chapter to the next. What sounds painfully high-minded in concept is resonant and humane in practice: Mitchell doesn’t pander to semiotics nerds or rely on meta gags. Given his well-established reputation for narrative trickery, his ballsiest turn may be towards more straightforward narratives. His latest, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is Mitchell’s most direct and linear work yet, a historical novel set in 19th-century Japan, when the country was culturally isolated from the rest of the world except for a tiny Dutch trading post. Confined to the events and intrigues at the trading post, Mitchell’s character study is modest in scope, yet touches upon many of his recurring themes — xenophobia, imperialism, and the cultural clash between East and West. After the mind-bending heights of Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten, and Number9Dream, the new novel’s straightforward approach has pissed off some critics and fanboys, but don’t believe the hype. Even when playing it straight, Mitchell remains one of the most ambitious and engaging literary authors working today.
Thu., July 22, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Paul M. Davis

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