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I started reading 'number9dream' on New Year's Eve and only just recently finished it. It is quite a long book, but at the same time my reading pace has been stuttered for a while. The book however is a very enjoyable and impressionable read indeed! I picked it up from Amazon at a reduction of 60% in the January sales (£10 to £4!), and also having been curious about the book it was another variable that convinced me into rightly making the purchase. 'number9dream' is the second novel by the early thirties writer currently teaching in Hiroshima, and has been widely acclaimed by many, even more so than his debut novel 'Ghostwritten', and it's not hard to see why as there are many impressive, unique and enjoyable facets to this book, published by Sceptre. The book is divided into 8 long chapters, with symbolled sub-divisions in each chapter, that chart the journeying of nearing-20-yr-old Eiji Miyake from the southern island of Yakushima to find his unknown father in a quite nightmarish Tokyo. Mitchell's writing, like most good writers is engaging and engrossing, but where he succeeds more in his unique way is by involving the reader wholeheartedly as the book is mult-textual. That is, that within the book there are a number of other documents that Eiji Miyake comes across that we're able to read as if we, the reader, have been allowed to read them and become Miyake's unseen companion. This is not just novel, but also extremely immersive. Almost like a Haruki Murakami novel (who is name checked, and like his style this book is titled after a song from The Beatles tree, by John Lennon - who also makes a cameo), but at the same time it's quite distant. It has familiar ingredients of good contemporary Japanese fiction - Far East mysteriousness, metaphysics, cyber-journeying, detective, love story and historical aspects - but this is still a story of it's own, in a genre and style of
it's own. 'It is so much simpler to bury reality than it is to dispose of dreams' - a quote by Don Delillo opens the book, and then we meet Miyake in Tokyo at a cafe, planning a stakeout at the PanOpticon building opposite in which a woman resides who holds information to the wherabouts of his father. And the result is initially hyperbolic and entertaining, but a twist as you'd expect prolongs that the book extends beyond a couple of pages and temporarily makes you think that it's something that it's not. It is also in the cafe where we first meet Miyake's to-be love interest, waitress Miss Ai Imajo, and learn of how God enjoys living caged up in a mental asylum, courtesy of being allowed to peer into a black and white movie. In the second chapter Miyake's character is developed even more and we learn about his tragic sister Anju, who Miyake coincidentally has appeared to have traded for a victorious football match in a vy with the god of thunder. And Miyake's mother re-represents herself into his life, although not fully desirably, while at the same time he secures a temporary job at the Ueno Station Lost Property office, makes friends with a troubled hacker and sets up accomodation above a video shop who's owner could quite possibly be the fat comic book buff from The Simpsons. Things get even more deeper as Miyake lurches into video game arcade territory and hooks up with a notorious rich kid who helps sign both their death warrants after an unwarranted sex session with easy women that will put them knee deep in trouble with the Yakuza (mafia), and at the same time it appears that his step mother is aiming to put an end to his search for his father despite finding more clues that tempt. The beauty what follows next is the immersion of gang wars within the underworld that similtaneously starts from the end and the beginning, in alternation, before they meet at the end to fuse and
deliver the conclusion. This is probably the most violent chapter in the book with abuse and death aplenty and is there purely to intense the stakes and throw Miyake into more dissaray than he had ever bargained for. I'm not sure, but I heard somewhere that this book maybe turned into a movie - and if the style is true to the book in the majority, plus other variables considering, it's sure to be a brilliant film indeed. Whether that project is true or ever reaches fruition, I can't tell you to wait as this book deserves reading pronto if you haven't, as this is one of the best modern novels written, personally. While recovering from the ordeal of surviving the gang war, Miyake finds refuge in his landlord's aunt's house and reads warm-up manuscripts of a self-named 'attic fabulist'. Short stories written by the aunt of Miyake's video shop owner landlord for him when he was a child. These tales are marvellously odd, featuring the 'venerable moving coach' that comprises the talking hen Mrs Comb, Pithecanthropus the pre-evolved man and Goatwriter, who incidentally is a goat who writes - and these three polite animals embark on a number of considerate journeys that first begin with missing truly-untold-tales, and later on the theft of a special pen that leads to a showdown with the evil queen of the Internet at her web site and a journey to the other side of their existence. It is also during this time that Miyake's search for his father seems to be getting closer when a reply to a newspaper ad he placed, supposedly from his grandfather surfices ensuing with a meeting that ends with Miyake in possesion of a prescious journal his great uncle wrote. A wartime human torpedo pilot from the Kaiten programme documenting his last days, and as you'd expect we share in the delights of this journal. Mitchell's acknowledgments show that he has spent a considerable amount of time researchi
ng kaitens which not only adds historical value I'm sure, but also a degree of authenticity. Miyake's relationship with the perfect-necked Ai Imajo begins to get deeper, although he doesn't know it yet, while his hacker friend Suga descends into a state of temporal depressed madness. And the stern step mother is back in the scene face to face, to ward off her husband's 'mistake' to prevent him from trying to ruin her family as she thought, and this where a sudden change of event occurs in one single bounce and in one sense in can be seen as anti-climatic, and then in another sense truly understandable. Losing his job at Ueno for security reasons, Miyake takes up a job at the local Nero's pizzeria courtesy of Ai's live-in friend, where domestic and/or comedies of their own come in to play, including a letter (allegedly misdelivered) revealing the sordid details of organ harvesters from a hardened mother who lost her child to them. Suga in his quest for the secrets of The Holy Grail gets given either the choice of jail or a job with the Pentagon (you can guess which he chose!) and leaves baring a small gift that will become of some use to Miyake shortly, while now Ai is now grappling with her father over his refusal to let her study music in Paris. Miyake's ordeal however is nowhere near over when once again he gets sucked into the underworld for a game of chance where the prize is his life, and the loss is the donation of his organs. Chance is in the whole environment where the main boss of the underworld resides. Chance is the key to everything! In an altered quest, Miyake then journeys back home to a rainy Yakushima, first alternating between mysticism, oddly surreal dreams (bladder babies anyone?), tales - to reality again and in homage to his dead sister and abruptly it all ends before an unseen dream and at an event which leaves us hanging on the edge of a cliff. A sandpaper rough e
nding, and partly anti-climatic, but apt I thought, after a while. 'number9dream' is brilliant, simply. If you want to read good modern fiction, this is one choice - take it. I'd personally give it 4/5, but I'm going to give it 5/5 as the reason why I ever-so-minutely didn't get the most out of it was because I didn't read it too regularly to keep the pace going and that's important to this and many books. David Mitchell is a talent in the making, or indeed a talent made! I'll be looking out for his future works and pondering his debut, as Mitchell is one of those rare modern writers you dare not miss while he's active. Brilliantly written, a brilliant story and a refreshingly new kind of style. 'number9dream' is a classic and I can say that without any hesitation. An addictive brew for the mind! Simply marvellous - lots of praise etc. etc. I feel like reading it again; that's how much I feared it ending!
David Mitchell lives, teaches English, and has set his first two novels in Japan. His debut (Ghostwritten) received much critical acclaim (for more info check out nomie's review here on dooyoo). Living and working in Japan does enable him to write about Japan the place and use it as a setting for his novels, but there's not much Japaneseness about his characters. They are Japanese people as seen from the outside by an Englishman; but it doesn't really matter though because his themes are international. This is the age-old story of a young man's quest to find his roots, colliding with an ultra-modern world. Eiji Miyake is 7290 days old and has grown up on a small island in Japan. He goes to Tokyo to track down his unknown father, and there he encounters sex and drugs and video games; some virtual reality parents, a lot of paranoia, and the odd earthquake. He also goes bowling with a Yakuza boss (not a pleasant scene). I say scene, because it reads like the screenplay of an action movie. The opening is pure James Bond - Eiji tricks his way into a high-security building to confront his father's lawyer, Akiko Katõ, and demand, at gunpoint, that she discloses his father's identity. This is a breathlessly pacy, shot-hit, verbally dazzling opening. Exciting, witty and complete fantasy of course. Eiji is just a spotty teenager, sitting in a café, out of his depth in the big city. He goes to the cinema and in the film an inmate of a mental institution tells a psychiatrist that he is God and proves it by making Belgium disappear - just as though it had never existed. Nice one God. But wait, was Eiji really at the cinema, or was it just part of another fantasy? Is it real or is it Multiplex? There are nine sections, and each one has a different style. The first (PANOPTICON) is James Bond-cum-science-fiction, while in the second (LOST PROPERTY) we learn about the tr
agic death of his twin-sister Anju, after Eiji offered the God of Thunder "Anything" to make him the greatest soccer player in Japan. The title of the third section (VIDEO GAMES) speaks for itself. Here's an extract: "A mighty chokmakopter eclipses the sun, and zombie spawn abseil to earth. I pulp dozens in mid-air, but the semolina army of death sludges up too quickly." !!!!! In part four (RECLAIMED LAND) Eiji gets caught up in a turf-war between violent gangsters. In an interview, the author described his approach thus: "the trick to writing a compelling narrative is so simple it's often overlooked: invent a character the reader likes and make nasty or dangerous things happen to him or her." Part five (STUDY OF TALES) came as a welcome change of pace, offering the chance to chill-out, but I soon became impatient with what seemed like an unnecessary diversion into fairyland. The temptation to skim-read increased in section six (KAI TEN) which is dominated by extracts from his grandfather's war-time journal. But it gets back on track in part seven (CARDS) though with love, magic, mystery and a surprise or two. By part eight (THE LANGUAGE OF MOUNTAINS IS RAIN) dreams seem to be taking over completely, and the ninth is a blank page. Oh, sorry, I've given away the ending! This book is fantastic in every sense of the word, but it's also a gazillion light years away from the usual Booker Prize contenders, and I think it's fair to say that it's a boys book. I reckon that fans of Alex Garland and Iain M. Banks would enjoy number9dream. I did. ~ More I cannot say, what more can I say? ~ Was it just a dream? ~ Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé. ¶ Paperback: £?.99 ¶ pp418 ¶ ISBN: 0340739762 ¶ ____________________________________________________
Eiji Miyake arrives in a sprawling Japanese metropolis to track down the father he has never met, but the city is a mapless place if you are 18, broke, and the only person you can trust is John Lennon.