David Mitchell is no newcomer to experimental prose forms. Number9dream uses omission to leave a disturbing lacuna; the multigenred Cloud Atlas has a chiastic structure and The Right Sort, his newest foray, is a short story delivered in a string of 280 Tweets. To which my immediate response was: how is that different from, say, emailing Middlemarch to someone chapter by chapter. How does the form structure the story? The answer chiefly lies in the unique pressures of telling a story in 140 character chunks, ‘Leaves blow down from an overhanging branch. There’s more leaves off than there are leaves left. October. The clocks go back tonight.’ Moreover there’s new space for elliptical tension, ‘…’cause there’s no door down here at all. No gate. No ‘townhouse’. The alley turns right, then after twenty more paces, you’re out…’ Additionally, form and content can be made to illustratively mirror, ‘The pill’s just kicking in now. Valium breaks down the world into bite-sized sentences. Like this one. All lined up. Munch-munch.’ Potentially there’s an epistolary conceit to be made, but Mitchell decides against. Having read The Right Sort, the next question: was it aesthetically successful?
There’s a class motif that’s smugly forced in an Ian McEwan kind of way. Especially when combined with the subject of home-education so as to reinforce stereotypes about British home-educators being largely wealthy. This is not a failing of the experiment, though, but only execution. And the narrative about anxiety, valium and trauma is more arresting. The prose is up to Mitchell’s standard—not Michael Ondaatje or Cormac McCarthy, but impressive. And as my extracts hint, he shows what can be done artistically with the medium—better than Stephan Fry previously managed. One curiosity was seeing which individual Tweet was most favourited, recalling those Kindle eBook highlights. The winner was, ‘I get one of those moments that aren’t like other moments, when you’re so aware that the world’s real it feels like you’re dreaming it.’ Ultimately one speculation remains: qua experiment, where to take this idea? It suggests an accessible platform for narrative, but beyond the games of a traditional celebrity print-author, opens the cul-de-sac of online cliques telling obscurer insider tales, potentially deluded on scope and quality by the echo-chamber of their online friends list.