I like David Mitchell. I’m impressed by his output. Acting, writing opinion pieces for the Observer, doing staged rants on TV panel shows and even more staged rants on his Soapbox (and one or two in Peep Show as well!): he seems to have it all. But he’s not quite got it all, because contrary to what I assume to be a common confusion, he isn’t the author of Cloud Atlas and those other books whose names nobody like me remembers. That’s a different person with the same name. I’d be surprised if the actor doesn’t have publishers queueing around the block to give him book deals, but he hasn’t published any novels to my knowledge, and if he has they’re not as praised as Cloud Atlas and those others. And if he had and they were, that’d be impressive. I’m told they’re pretty good. If that’s all it’d take to catapult him into the Stephen Fryosphere of national admiration then he should definitely give it a go. Though he wouldn’t want to risk turning into Will Self.
Now the French seem to think that even though they haven’t produced a playwright as good as Shakespeare that’s fine because they have Racine for the tragedies and Moliere for the comedies, and if that’s not enough for you they’ve got Corneille too. But isn’t that cheating? Part of what’s so impressive about Shakespeare is that he did it all by himself. When we find out he occasionally called in Marlowe or Middleton when a deadline loomed, it’s less impressive. It doesn’t make the plays less enjoyable, and indeed I was actually pleased to be told that the silly first scene of Macbeth wasn’t from the pen of our greatest writer. But it does (in other cases) make it slightly less impressive. I suppose what we’re looking for is heroes, and we want our heroes to work alone. When you find out Hercules did one labour with the help of a couple of rivers (which were presumably gods in disguise) and one with the help of Iolaus (blatant cheating) you send him off to do another two to make up. So while the French dramatic canon may be as good as ours, when it comes to literary heroes you can’t cobble together a Shakespeare out of a Moliere here and a Corneille there. All of this is rather a shame for me. One of my favourite heroes is Jason and that’s because he really knew how to put a team together in a way that makes Danny Ocean look like Rafa Benitez. Perhaps I should stop rewatching Peep Show and read Cloud Atlas.