David Mitchell’s New Book Won’t Be Read for Another 98 Years

Like all others, you want the coming generations to inherit the most splendid parts of this earth, or at least delay the worst from happening for as long as you can. How can you ensure that happens? You can’t, apparently. David Mitchell can though, with a manuscript that won’t be released for another 98 years.

Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and many other impossible-to-summarize books, has finished what appears to be his newest book, entitled From Me Flows What You Call Time. It is his contribution to The Future Library Project in Norway, an ambitious idea started by conceptual artist Katie Paterson.

Each year, beginning last year with Marget Atwood‘s story “Scribbler Moon”, a new writer will submit a work of any kind to the Future Library Project. The novels, short stories, poems and more will not be revealed to the public until 2114. To make an interesting (and what I find unnecessary) point, 1,000 trees have been planted in a forest north of Oslo with the expectation that they be cut down in order to print these writer’s works, to prove that civilization will be resilient enough to have to chop up wood to meet the demand for these books.

It’s hard to tell whether this project is ultimately a triumph of human longevity or slimy pretention. Mitchell is not one to ever take the conceptual low road, but his exact intentions for doing this seem a bit obscured by the spectacle of it all. (At least when John Malkovich attempts high-profile publicity stunts like this, we’re aware that he’s cashing a check in exchange for telling us about luxurious cognac.)

He, like Atwood before him, is mum over any details of his work but has faith in the project, insisting that others trust the library to be worth the wait. As he said, he’s put his presumed future reputation on the line:

“[I]t better be good,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “What a historic fool of epochal proportions I’d look, if they opened it in 2114 and it wasn’t any good.”

My concern is not over Mitchell’s quality, but of relevance. What if no one remembers David Mitchell’s work? Can you, for example, name any author from the 1910s that would still make news today if we found his or her ‘lost story’ (if you get past E.M. Forster without Googling, I’ll send you a polite card in concession). Following up to that – would you read it? In the 2100s, will 100 years feel like enough time to make a work feel quaint – bold, visionary prose to feel timeless, but justifiably ‘in the past’ if its perspective turns out to be ill-fitting with what’s appropriate? Again, it appears that another time-capsule art project has asked more questions than it intends to answer.


Featured image Patrick Bolger / the Observer