NB: This is a review of David Mitchell’s Twitter-based short story “The Right Sort”. It can be best read in its original form on Twitter. It is collected here for ease of reference.
This 280-tweet tale was published in several bursts in the middle of July. You can read the full thing here: https://twitter.com/SceptreBooks/timelines/488586138048004096.
It tells the story of delightfully-uncool teenager Nathan Bland, as he accompanies his mother on a visit to a prominent Lady’s soiree.
Appropriately, the story is in the present tense. It suits the format.
We are used to reading Twitter as a log of current events, and this habit doesn’t die even when we know we’re reading fiction.
It feels as though we’re watching in real time as Nathan and his mother search for the gate to the property.
And as Nathan makes friends with a mysterious, slightly-unsettling boy who lives within the gated house.
Mitchell is keen to justify the use of Twitter as a platform. The narrator has just taken a Valium which he stole from his mother.
“Valium breaks down the world into bite-sized sentences,” he explains. It’s a neat way of explaining the conceit of the story.
Although, in my opinion, it’s also a little unnecessary. The story is strong enough that I felt it didn’t need to make excuses for its form.
The Valium also serves a second purpose. As the story progresses things become more and more hallucinatory and surreal.
“I looked ‘Valium’ up in the encyclopedia at school,” explains Nathan. “In very rare cases it can make you hallucinate.”
All well and good, but the longer the story goes on, the harder it becomes to blame the series of strange happenings on Valium alone.
Something darker appears to be taking shape beneath the surface, although we’re never quite sure what is real and what is not.
The format makes the climax especially intense. We inhabit Nathan’s mind from moment to moment. And what a collection of moments it is.
Although the direction the story takes is unexpected, the descent into madness is sleek enough to be credible.
Suffice to say the story is a thrilling read, enhanced rather than limited by its use of Twitter.
“The Right Sort” takes place in the same universe as Mitchell’s upcoming novel “The Bone Clocks”, but the story is unrelated.
It is best read on Twitter (https://twitter.com/SceptreBooks/timelines/488586138048004096) the normalcy of which lends the tale a certain atmosphere.
The whole thing has also been collected and arranged into a more normal format: http://www.themillions.com/2014/07/exclusive-david-mitchells-twitter-story-the-right-sort-collected.html.
Review by Christopher Frost. Christopher lives in Stoke-on-Trent. He is a freelance writer, and works for a local charity.