In and Out

On my last trip to San Francisco I discovered In’n’Out burgers. If you don’t live in California, In’n’Out might need some explanation. Imagine the greasiest possible burger, accompanied with the worlds most artificial cheese, wrapped in a bun that almost resembles bread and chips that no one believes are even related to a potato. And there you have an In’n’Out burger and fries. It is by every objective standard barely even a foodstuff. And yet, what have I been hungry for every minute of my flight accrosd the Atlantic. Yup…you guessed it.

I’m reading David Mitchell’s first novel Ghostwritten on the flight. I’ve had this novel sitting on my shelf for about a decade, since exchanging it with a friend for a dog eared copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No offence to Robert Pirsig but I think I got the better of the deal, even if it has taken ten years to discover.

Ghostwritten is really a short story collection, not a novel, however much the publisher and critics claim otherwise. It reads as though Mitchell wrote a short novella in each of his favourite genres and then jammed them all in one book. There is a definite literary sensibility to the writing. DM is all about the interior life of his characters, and he manages the impressive task of writing nine stories in 1st person which can be read back to back without all the characters collapsing into a mellange of the authors own voice. But the lit technique is matched with the kind of ingenuity, pace and plotting more familiar in good genre fiction. I think what shines through Ghostwritten is that DM loves stories, loves books and fiction and loves writing. You really get the sense that he is playing in the book, introducing voices simply because he can, telling stories just for the joy of telling them. I think thats what makes the writing so compelling.

Stopped reading for a while to look out of the window at the Canada wilderness going past. The world is a big place, much of it is cold and forbidding. I’m glad to be headed to the Bay Area, and can already tase that burger.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “In and Out

  1. You really haven’t done In N Out justice! Not only is their food great but their ingredients are so much fresher than those used at other fast food places, and their fries aren’t quite as artery-clogging because they use a better oil. Also, they have kinder business practices than other places; for one thing, they pay their employees a decent wage.

    Anyway, just a Californian defending her native food. I may be a little too passionate about this.



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