number9dream by David Mitchell

Summary from Goodreads:

David Mitchell follows his eerily precocious, globe-striding first novel, Ghostwritten, with a work that is in its way even more ambitious. In outward form, number9dream is a Dickensian coming-of-age journey: Young dreamer Eiji Miyake, from remote rural Japan, thrust out on his own by his sister’s death and his mother’s breakdown, comes to Tokyo in pursuit of the father who abandoned him. Stumbling around this strange, awesome city, he trips over and crosses—through a hidden destiny or just monstrously bad luck—a number of its secret power centers. Suddenly, the riddle of his father’s identity becomes just one of the increasingly urgent questions Eiji must answer. Why is the line between the world of his experiences and the world of his dreams so blurry? Why do so many horrible things keep happening to him? What is it about the number 9? To answer these questions, and ultimately to come to terms with his inheritance, Eiji must somehow acquire an insight into the workings of history and fate that would be rare in anyone, much less in a boy from out of town with a price on his head and less than the cost of a Beatles disc to his name.


number9dream plunges us right away into the narrative without any warning. And it can be disorienting jumping from one dream to another, and one memory to another.  It can be tough trying to weed out which is actually real and which isn't. But really this is hardly a complaint because it is such a joy to see David Mitchell's writerly flair, creating some sort of organized chaos out of all these dreams and nightmares and memories and various character voices. 

Here we have Eiji Miyake, a small town teenage boy searching for his father in the big city of Tokyo, where he somehow gets mixed up with Yakuzas, kamikaze kaiten pilots, persimmon dispensing-knitting-witches, a tale of talking animals and the girl of his dreams, and that's not even the end of it. It's easy for the narrative to take off and go over our heads. To be just full blast trippy and surreal. But it doesn't. Mitchell still manages to keep it entrenched in reality. I think it's because Eiji Miyake is such an effective protagonist. He is relatable and genuine and through him the reader is kept grounded. 

Okay there is this thing that I do when reading a David Mitchell book. I tend to look for connections between events and characters because Mitchell loves his interconnections. But in comparison to Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, I had a hard time giving explanations as to what a certain event (or five) might mean to the main story line. Like there is this talking animals story that served no purpose whatsoever in advancing the narrative. I was told that it merely acted as David Mitchell's commentary about the state of publishing and the literary world. And that's that. So this part threw me off a bit. But I was okay with it in the end. A fussy goat, an even fussier hen, a lovable caveman talking in like they were from Downton Abbey was pretty entertaining, afterall. 

number9dream covers the gruesome, the absurd, the romatic, the comedic, the frightening and the suspenseful. It's like a bunch of genres all in one place. In this book, I feel like David Mitchell took his signature elements to slightly over the top ends. But the post modern structure never undercuts the emotional through-line but strenghtens it instead, making it an extradordinary coming of age story. 

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