Connections: Neal Brose
Name: Neal Brose
Aliases: Oh Hunter Gatherer!
Age: 31 (Ghostwritten), 12-13 (Black Swan Green)
Affiliations: Cavendish Holdings, Account #1390931, Mickey Kwan, Black Swan Green
First appearance: Ghostwritten, Hong Kong; Black Swan Green, January Man
Neal Brose – Neal Brose is a financial lawyer first introduced in Ghostwritten. Brose is a point-of-view character in the novel. He also appears in Black Swan Green, as a child growing up in the eponymous town.
In Black Swan Green:
While Brose is an important point-of-view character in Ghostwritten, he appears again in 2006’s Black Swan Green as a classmate of Jason Taylor, the book’s protagonist. From an early age Brose displays a talent for making money — in January Man, when the lake in Black Swan Green is frozen over, he rents his ice skates to fellow boys “for 5p a go.”
Later, when Jason’s cousin Hugo Lamb visits Black Swan Green with his family, Hugo tells Brose: “Identify a demand, handle its supply, make your customers grateful, kill off the opposition.” Brose “memorized every word of that,” protagonist Jason tells the reader.
Early on in the book as Jason proves his mettle by pranking adults, Brose warms to him, even giving him free candy bars from a small student-run shop in the school. But as Jason’s stammer is exposed by Grant Burch and other kids turn on him, Brose becomes one of Jason’s meanest tormentors.
Toward the end of the book, as Jason is bullied and more children in the village become hostile toward him, he seizes an opportunity to get revenge on Brose by swiping Brose’s calculator and crushing it with a shop class tool.
Brose lives with his wife, Katy Forbes, in a luxury apartment tower just off Hong Kong, segregated from the city proper and its inhabitants. The building is populated by the “financial tribe,” as Brose muses early in the chapter, with fellow attorneys, investment bankers and other bigwigs who accepted the foreign post to further their careers.
As the chapter unfolds, the relationship between Neal and Katy begins to deteriorate, compounded by the fact that Neal begins an affair with the Chinese maid who cleans their apartment several times a week. Eventually, Katy announces she wants a divorce and returns to the U.K., leaving Neal alone in Hong Kong.
Like many of Mitchell’s narratives, the chapter doesn’t unfold chronologically, and vague references to “she” and “her” only become clear later on, when it’s revealed that Neal actually isn’t living alone — a ghost, previously unseen, also occupies the apartment.
Neal describes her presence as a background hum, almost imperceptable at first: “Little things. Hidden objects. The honey left on top of the wardrobe. Books turning up in the dishwasher. That kind of thing. Keys. She had a penchant for keys. No, she’s never been an in-your-face houseguest. Katy and I joked about her even before we believed in her: Oh, it’s only the ghost again.”
“I do remember the day that hum became a noise. It was a Sunday afternoon, last autumn. I was home for once. Katy had gone shopping at the supermarket down in the village. I was vegging out on the sofa, one eye on the newspaper and one on Die Hard 3 dubbed into Cantonese. I realized there was a little girl playing on the carpet in front of me, lying on her belly and pretending to swim.
I knew she was there, and I knew there was no such child.
The conclusion was obvious.
Fear breathed down the nape of my neck.
Half a building blew up. “We’d better get some more FBI agents,” said the stupid deputy who didn’t trust Bruce Willis.
Reason entered, brandishing its warrant. It ordered that I behave as if nothing untoward was happening. What was I going to do? Go screaming from the apartment to — where? I’d have to come back at some point. There was Katy to think about, too. Was I to tell her that a ghost was watching us morning, noon and night? If this drawbridge was lowered, what else would come in? I forced myself to pretend to finish the article, though it could have been written in Mongolian.
Fear was handcuffed, but it could still yell at the top of its lungs, There’s a fucking ghost in your apartment! A fucking ghost, you hear me?”
In Ghostwritten, Neal Brose works for Denholme Cavendish, owner of Cavendish Holdings, who places Brose in charge of a special hidden account. Denholme Cavendish later appears in Cloud Atlas as the brother of chapter protagonist Timothy Cavendish, a vanity publisher. In Ghostwritten’s Hong Kong chapter, Brose shares a seat with Tokyo’s Satoru and his girlfriend, Tomoyo. In Ghostwritten’s London chapter, Brose’s ex-wife Katy has a one-night stand with the chapter’s protagonist, Marco.
The maid Brose has an affair with appears again in Ghostwritten’s Holy Mountain chapter as the granddaughter of the “tea shack lady,” the chapter’s point-of-view character. The tea shack lady receives good news, that her granddaughter worked for a wealthy foreigner — Brose — who passed away and left her valuables in his will. Intuition tells her there’s more to the story, and that her granddaughter didn’t receive the windfall legally.