on January 22, 2002
First of all I read an interview with David in the Sydney Morning Herald, where he talks about the mind as a meaning machine. I note the title down and commence searching. Then I notice elsewhere it's been nominated for the Booker. I search harder. Months later, I finally find a copy and settle in to read. Maybe the search for the book raised my expectations, but I ended up being disappointed. Mitchell has commented elsewhere that he admires DeLillo, and I have seen him compared with Gibson -- in my opinion, he doesn't approach either. Against the narrative scale of DeLillo, this novel is a children's story; against the cool minimalism of Gibson his Tokyo is a densely populated cartoon. Which isn't to say that the novel doesn't turn pages -- the inventive structure kept me intrigued and the play between dream and reality also created a sense of suspense -- the question is, were there no better novels to come out of the Commonwealth in 2001? In the end I think I'd be recommending the book to young readers looking for a path into literature -- not to readers of serious fiction, and certainly not to Booker judges...
on May 7, 2002
..., David Mitchell is obviously a fan of Haruki Murakami. In Number9Dream there are many cameo appearances of the works of Murakami, and the overall theme of the novel seems to be derived from Murakami's stable: disenchanted loner living in the crazy world of Tokyo's youth culture. Haruki Murakami has written some fine material, especially his brilliant The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. How does David Mitchell's Number9Dream hold up in comparison? Not very well.
The story itself, a complex tale of an illegitimate country boy going to Tokyo in search of his father, is interesting enough. Mitchell is most confident in his prose when delving into a side story concerning the yakuza, the Japanese crime syndicate his father obviously rubs shoulders with. But unfortunately our lead character is, quite literally, an avid dreamer. These weird dreams, constantly sprinkled throughout the novel, detract rather than enhance the story. Haruki Murakami is the expert in weaving surreal elements into his novels. David Mitchell fails, quite badly.
However all is not lost. There are vignettes within this overly complex novel which are actually quite interesting, and often the characterizations and the prose work very well. David Mitchell also captures the feeling of frenetic Tokyo quite convincingly. With better editting Number9Dream could have been quite a decent read.
Bottom line: Murakami fans will be appalled at this derivative material by Mitchell. Certainly not a terrible novel, but one has to wonder why Number9Dream was nominated for the Booker Prize?
on April 18, 2002
David Mitchell's second novel tells us a story of a young Japanese man Eiji Miyake who arrives in modern megapolitan Tokyo in search of his father who repudiated him long ago. That forms an outline of the book which consists of nine parts. The structure of the novel and some of its plotlines are similar to the ones of the author's first novel "Ghostwritten": every part has certain degree of independence (even linguistic) but the plot of the second novel is undoubtedly more coherent and harmonious than of the first one.
Nine different parts of "number9dream" are like disparate edges of the human life in the modern world, they supersede one another: a mixture of sci-fi story with hero's vindictive dreams, sentimental flashbacks of hero's early life with his late beloved twin sister, a dive into erotical nightlife of the modern megapolis, a Yakuza story, a dystopian fantasy with excellent verbal tightrope-walking (which, I believe, played a substantial role in novel's shortlisting for the Booker Prize 2001), meditation about recent Japanese history and meaning of human existence, reiteration of some previous elements with noticeable mob tints, an apokalyptic denouement designed as a secession of dreams, and - silence. Having in mind such genre and wordy diversity every reader can find in the novel something to enjoy or ponder over (personally I prefer Goatwriter's language-twisting Study of Tales and historico-philosophical Kai Ten). Though the book consists of such different parts, it has sufficiently strict plot which joins the kaleidoscope of its separate parts in a kind of bildungsroman, the author of which tries to put eternal questions of human existence using postmodern literary gamut of the 21st century.
Yet the book has some weak points. First, the main love story of the novel is a vapid replica of the brilliant Tokyo chapter of author'r first novel. Second, both novels have one visible flaw - they lack powerful (or even proper) ending. I sincerely hope the next David Mitchell's novel will surmount these literary omissions.
on March 17, 2002
I have probably been introduced to more writers' work through The Booker Prize than any other. I had already read, "Ghostwritten", which I very much enjoyed, so when this book arrived I had high expectations. Why the people on The Booker Committee chose this book is beyond me, and if this was the first work he had written I never would have picked up the second. These are 400 pages of fiction bordering on incoherent. When the book does stray into prose that is readable, the reader is then rewarded with a host of threads that have no conclusion.
Contrary to what has been suggested our hero has no clue who his father is nor where he can be located. We are exposed to this fact through a mind numbing series of daydreams fueled by caffeine and every cigarette brand you care to name. It's difficult to explain just how disjointed this book is. Through a good portion of the book when a storyline starts to unfold we are treated to the experiences of a sentient goat, chicken, and a prehistoric sidekick. Nothing wrong with sentient chickens, but when the chicken in distress is picked up by God on a surfboard, no amount of labeling can legitimize this book. Post modern, surreal, or my favorite, Dickensian coming of age all are just word bytes to cover over the substance that isn't there.
The other rationale used for books like this is that the references, metaphors, etc are so subtle that if the book does not appeal to the reader, the reader is the one who is lacking. There are some heavy handed clichés that are tossed about including a phone call from a customer to a computer help center that everyone has either been told or has read before.
A final word on the goat, this fellow is not only sentient, he is a writer, hence his name goatwriter. Now if this is supposed to be a reference to the use of goats in ancient theatre, specifically tragedies, it is so subtle that it has no meaning. Our goat author also keeps eating much of what he writes and then claiming his fragments were stolen. Some bits and pieces may have gone missing, but our author happily made them part of this work.
on January 18, 2002
Twenty-year-old Eiji Miyake travels to the hyperkinetic, frenetic city of Tokyo in this second novel by David Mitchell, the English expatriate author of 'Ghostwritten' who lives in Hiroshima, Japan. Eiji-san has come to Tokyo to discover the identity of his long-lost father, and it's this quest that propels the narrative through the twists and turns, bumps and bells of its pachinko machine-driven plot. Eiji-san can only control the speed at which he plays this game of life that often slips over into the surreal; otherwise he haphazardly bounces around Tokyo and its environs, bumping into random people who befriend him and betray him.
Mr. Mitchell readily admits that he has been much influenced by Haruki Murakami ('The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,' 'Sputnik Sweetheart') and Don DeLillo ('Underworld,' 'White Noise,' 'The Body Artist') in writing 'number9dream.' Readers who are fond of these two authors and their works will love this book. The title, 'number9dream,' echoes the fascination that John Lennon had for the number nine; his 1974 song '#9 Dream' peaked at '9' on the charts. ('So long ago / Was it in a dream, was it just a dream? / I know, yes I know / Seemed so very real, it seemed so real to me.')
The story begins: 'It is a simple matter. I know your name, and you knew mine, once upon a time: Eiji Miyake. Yes, that Eiji Miyake. We are both busy people, Ms Kato, so why not cut the small talk? I am in Tokyo to find my father. You know his name and his address. And you are going to give me both. Right now.' Or something like that.' Yes, something like that, because it's not such a simple matter after all. Slipping into the surreal, the realm of sci fi and phantasmagoria, Eiji Miyake soon inhabits a parallel universe. He goes about his day-to-day affairs, yet the narrative glides onto a giant turntable where the record that's playing repeats 'number nine . . . number nine . . . number nine.'
Eiji's quest leads him into the underbelly of the Tokyo scene, where he encounters the Yakusa. Does his father have a connection to the Yakusa? The origin of the Yakusa - Japanese for 'they without worth to society' - can be traced back to 1612; they were masterless samurai, ronin, wandering robber bands, who, after the industrialization of Japan, have transformed themselves into Armani-suited gangsters, who some call the Japanese Mafia. The code of the Yakusa and the structure of their organization is complex, but David Mitchell navigates their terrain with consummate skill.
After Eiji-san has met up with the Yakusa, he is then warned that he 'must persuade himself that tonight was another man's nightmare into which you accidentally strayed.' Yet the reality of Eiji Miyake's life is haunted and tainted by nightmares and dreams as he time-travels from his cozy capsule in Tokyo to his grandmother's home on the foggy island of Yakushima. In these flashbacks, he confronts ghosts and thunder gods while he seeks clues to the mystery-shrouded death of his twin sister, Anju. As Leatherjacket had told him earlier, 'nightmares are our wilder ancestors returning to reclaim land. Land tamed and grazed, by our softer, fatter, modern, waking selves.'
Through an unusual encounter in the Amadeus Tea Room with an elderly gentleman who may be Eiji-san's grandfather, he comes into the possession of a diary that was written by a kaiten pilot, who, while part of the Japanese Imperial Navy, was stationed off the coast of an island in the Ryuku chain during World War II. The journal entries, as they are read by Miyake in his capsule, are enthralling. Woven throughout other sections in the novel are a fabulist's tale, with oddball characters named Goatwriter and Mrs Combs, and a love story with Ai Imajo, a talented pianist. Unlike the narrative of 'Ghostwritten,' a novel of nine interlinked short-storied chapters plus one, the well-knit storyline of 'number9dream' doesn't unravel or drop any stitches as it goes along.
Some may say that 'number9dream' is no more than a Manga comic strip with cartoon characters and gratuitous violence, but they are missing the allusions and subtleties and humor that lightly grace the pages of this postmodern odyssey. 'number9dream' is a nonlinear novel in nine parts, a multilayered narrative that explores the nature of dreams and reality. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001, this novel is so extraordinary that you'll want to read it again and again and again.
on May 4, 2002
First of all, most of the other reviewers comments are true, even the comments of those who hated the book. Here's the scoop: Number9Dream is brilliant and moving, occasionally violent and shocking, and almost never boring. The scenes involving "Goatwriter" are everything you might imagine from what you have heard. They are puzzling. They are a distraction from the main story. They are also quite funny in their way. Be advised that these scenes do not pop inexplicably out of the ether, as you might assume from the other reviews posted here. The main character, Eiji, is hiding from those who might kill him, and he stumbles upon the text of a story. To bide his time, he reads this story about Goatwriter. It's odd, but it fits. Most importantly, readers who wade through that short section will find they've enjoyed one of the most satisfying novels they've read in a very long time.
on February 20, 2002
I am a great fan of Haruki Murakami, and was very impressed by David Mitchell's first novel "Ghostwritten" which managed to combine the magic of Murakami's modern Japan with a truly inventive plot. Not so "number9dream". This is a pale imitation of Murakami's magnificent novel "Norwegian Wood" right down to borrowing a Beatles song for a title. The book lacks the economical beauty of Murakami's writing whilst at the same time using characters and plot that are essentially Murakami's. There is also an extremely annoying chapter that is interspersed with unfinished children's stories. The book's strengths are its descriptions of modern day Tokyo, and if you like a bit of violence and action in your books you will prefer Mitchell's books to Murakami's. It's well worth reading, but not before "Norwegian Wood"
on February 23, 2002
The scope of David Mitchell's imagination is astounding. This book moves through the unreal realm of video games, the horror of mafia retribution, the futility of war and the phantasmagorical world of inventive language. I laughed, I cried, I was horrified. I am in awe of Mitchell's ability to move through different worlds yet always with a foot planted firmly in the present. The book is about the here and now, the young.
on March 27, 2002
Number9Dream is a story from David Mitchell (who is also known for his bestseller Ghostwritten). It takes place in Japan and is about a 20 year old "man of the world", Eiji Miyake. It's a fine book about a young man "growing" up and eventually making his own dreams.
Mitchell put in everything a good book needs (ie humor, tenderheartedness, and those horrifying scenes, you know).
I reccommend this book to everyone.
on July 5, 2008
Okay, I realise (judging from some of the other reviews) that this novel will NOT appeal to everyone, but I thought it was brilliant. I loved the "manga" quality. And if anyone can hold such a wildly diverse novel together, it's David Mitchell. I think he's one of the world's outstanding young writers, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this eccentric, compelling work!