David Mitchell’s Take on the Workings of the Universe and State of Humanity in Ghostwritten College

“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

This was the question that Edward Lorenz asked at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Lorenz’s inquiry blossomed into a concept of cause and effect called the butterfly effect, one with extraordinary consequences in the modern age of globalization. David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten investigates this concept through nine chapters, each about different characters in different settings. Mitchell’s book connects previous and future chapters by using hyperlinks that traverse space and time. The most defining part of Mitchell’s novel is its division into novellas, an organization that exists to represent the butterfly effect and the way it links everyone in our world--put simply the novellas, and the novel as a whole, exist to represent the way our world works (or at least the way Mitchell believes it does). Peter Childs and James Green reflect on these connections, explaining, “The network woven by these slender lines of association is less a global-spanning tapestry than an ephemeral web—characters from one story appear in another, sending ripples along the surface of the narratives as events in one chapter generate...

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