David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of the Dutch Accountant Whose Name I Can’t Remember

Here follows a demonstration of what happens when you write a book review after you’ve both finished the book and managed to misplace it, which is what has happened to me in the last 48 hours with David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of Jacob Somebody or Other.  Also, this is what happens when you write a book review without even once using the internets to verify your facts.  (Why am I not using the internets?  I don’t know.  I thought it would be fun is the closest I could come to an answer.)

But most likely you, dear reader, have been hearing about this book and don’t need me for facts.  It’s certainly easy enough to find the book — just google the phrase “thousand autumns” and bob’s your uncle.  (I just now realized that I have no uncles left.  It is the one year anniversary of my Uncle Martin’s death.  My Uncle Marin was a classic:  a basque from Susanville.  I have his thermos, the heavy duty one he took to the many construction jobs he worked on, and it reminds me that it’s good to have caffeine when you labor.  But goodness, how I digress.)

Anyway, back to David Mitchell.   First, I’ll say that without question the most tedious (both to write and to read) part of a book review is the plot summary.  For years, I’ve been trying to get away with not doing these in the reviews I write on this blog.  I know, I hardly ever write reviews.  And the ones I do write are so slim on plot details as to be maybe useless.  Which is why it is a constant source of amusement to me that publicists send me emails every week or so asking me to review what look to me like very, very good  books.  Every once in a while I ask for them to send me one, but then I don’t review it because, well, there’s the plot summary hurdle.  I can’t get over it.  That’s why I’ve been yammering on about my uncle and the people who want to send me free books.   I’m procrastinating.  (I would like to add, however, that I would review those books, except I’ve never received one I really loved.)

In a few words, David Mitchell’s book is about a red haired Dutch accountant who finds himself in a Dutch trading outpost, a little no man’s land of an outpost, outside of Nagasaki, which the Dutch aren’t allowed to enter.  Not much anyway.  It is set in the 18th century.  Naturally, the red haired Dutch accountant falls in love with a Japanese woman.  In a Shogun-like plot development, he woos her, and in a further Shogun-like plot development, this wooing leads him to a greater understanding of Asian culture.  Also, things go wrong, as they do in novels.  Is that enough plot description?  I hope so because it’s all I have the strength for.

Did I like it?  I did indeed.  I wasn’t so crazy about the bad guy, whose badness credibility is established by (a) his ability to kill people with mysterious hand waving and (b) his leadership of a weird (shinto, it is said) cult, which spirits women away to be brood mares, and worse.  Really, I could have gone all summer without weird sexual rituals popping up in the books I read.

Other than that, and the occasional overwrought writing you kind of expect in books about Europeans going to Japan in the 18th century and falling in love with women who’re midwives, and scarred but still beautiful, it’s a totally captivating book.  I will not go on and on about how Mitchell is an up and coming literary writer, because I did not read Cloud Atlas (not liking to have to handle six different narrative voices at once) and because I don’t think it’s necessary. Worse than plot summary is too much yammering on about the author’s (a) age, (b) book jacket picture, and (c) fights with Oprah, which, I’m fairly certain, Mitchell has never had, being English, and looking quite young and sort of sweet in his book jacket picture.

It’s a good summer book.

And that’s what a review that skimps on plot summary and is written without internet assistance looks like.

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9 thoughts on “David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of the Dutch Accountant Whose Name I Can’t Remember

  1. Bloglily, I love your reviews! Who needs the plot summary, anyway?

    I just realized I have no more uncles either, my last uncle surviving uncle having died in February. I hadn’t thought of the collective loss of uncles until now, having mourned each of them individually. Mostly, this fact makes me feel old — and wistful about all the stories that I’m sure that each of them still had left to tell.

  2. I do so know what you mean about plot summaries. It’s funny, because when I write academically, they’re the best bit. Or at least the bit where I breathe a sigh of relief and think, thank god, all I have to do is think of a jolly (ie entertaining to me) way of describing what happened rather than coming up with something clever to say about it. But in a blog post, nah, it’s just tedium.

    As ever, you make me laugh.

  3. I think you only need as much plot summary as is absolutely necessary to let readers know what the book is about — just the bare minimum, you don’t want lazy people to get too much from your summary and then pretend they’ve read the book 😉

    I am intrigued by this book — my son is reading Shogun, which I’ve never read. I’ve wanted to read Cloud Atlas as well but it does seem daunting.

    I see you still have a link to my old blog, yoga gumbo — I do have a new one (I’m linking above). If you are interested checking it out, I’d be honored.

  4. Kristi — my poor blogroll! It’s no longer needed, now that everything’s on a feed reader. But I should get in there and freshen it up, shouldn’t I? (I really like your new blog, by the way. xo)

    Hi Charlotte — My bookgroup is meeting at our house this THursday. Is it possible to paint the entire exterior of the house and rearrange the furniture and grow some stuff in the back yard before that happens? In fact, no. I’ll just have to put out a lot of alcohol.

    Why litlove, how right you are. You just have to think of an amusing way of getting the information across and then the whole thing doesn’t feel tedious at all.

    Dear Book God Bride — Given that who did it is the question I most love, I’m glad you don’t give it away. Still, what a pain sometimes, when the whole review turns on the ending.

    Dear Cam, You realize, don’t you, that we’re having identical lives? Born in the same year, mothers of males, etc. It’s true, the biggest loss is that they’re not around to tell us stories. xo

  5. This is wonderful! I may now actually read this this summer.

    I think plot summaries are overrated (I say that cuz I’m not very good at them). That’s certainly not what I read blog reviews for. Summaries I already know, from publishers, from Amazon, from book jackets, etc. I read blog reviews for your OPINION.

  6. Pingback: Summer Wish List « Charlotte's Web

  7. Oh Lily, I swear, Cloud Atlas is not so daunting as all that, and more than worth it! And you’re not balancing all these narrative voices at once — think of it more as six discrete and very different short stories which are also linked, or nested, even, like matryoshka dolls. He’s a wonderful writer, so reading it couldn’t be easier, I promise! xo

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