David Mitchell's second novel, Number9Dream
, tells the story of Eiji Miyake, a young man negotiating a hypermodern and dangerous Tokyo to meet for the first time his secretive and powerful father. Naïve and fresh from the Japanese countryside, Eiji encounters every obstacle imaginable in his quest, from his father's--and in-laws'--reluctance for the encounter to occur (Eiji is the bastard son) to fiery entanglements with yakuza
(the Japanese mafia) to the overwhelming size and anonymity of Tokyo itself.
The novel is cartoonish in that Eiji has a vivid and violent imagination that fills the book with daydreams. When not chain-smoking, forlorn Eiji wanders the city following vague or cryptic leads that invariably dead-end or land him back among yakuza. Mitchell (author of the critically acclaimed Ghostwritten) has a smart, eclectic writing style that seems foreign, and the novel is well paced, but the yakuza encounters are too cinematic, complete with unusual torture and pyrotechnics. Moreover, in addition to Eiji's daydreams, the last half of the book contains excerpts from the diaries of his great uncle's World War II naval heroics and bizarre short stories that Eiji reads while hiding--the latter of which make for tedious reading.
Number9Dream is crafted from too many disparate components; it does not seem to be a full expression, but an overly crowded one. Readers will sympathize with Eiji and his search, but in the end will wonder what effect, if any, all the extraneous forces had on him. The book provides many fun moments, but ultimately it doesn't really add up to the sum of its parts. --Michael Ferch
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From Publishers Weekly
A young Japanese man's quest to find his estranged parents throws him into a bizarre world of mobsters, dream villains and cyber-tricksters in Mitchell's second novel (after Ghostwritten), a hyperactive, erratic sprawl of a book that begins when narrator Eiji Miyake finds himself out on his own after his twin sister, Anju, dies: his alcoholic mother had had a nervous breakdown and left her two children with their grandmother when they were very young, and they have never met their father. Miyake makes the move from rural Japan to Tokyo to stake out the company where his father is a powerful executive. But his search lands him in a nebulous yet dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with an equally powerful Japanese mobster who uses Miyake's need to find his parents to kidnap and threaten him in a series of malevolent and nearly inexplicable scenes. The most coherent sequence in the narrative takes place when Miyake is contacted by his grandfather, a former seaman who gives Miyake his diary, a poignant account of his stint on a submarine in the final days of WWII, as the Japanese frantically scrambled to deploy a new undersea warhead. Miyake eventually manages to meet his parents, but those potentially affecting scenes are overwhelmed and overshadowed by Mitchell's relentless tendency to spin out futuristic, over-the-top scenarios in which Miyake is whisked away into strange settings and then abused as if he were the hero in a deadly video game. Mitchell showed considerable promise in his highly acclaimed debut, but his sophomore effort is so chaotic that it will test even the most diligent and devoted reader. (Feb. 26)Forecast: Rave reviews from the British press, a Booker Prize nomination and a five-city author tour will give this challenging novel a needed boost.
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