David Mitchell is definitely an interesting writer. Like Ghostwritten, Number9dream is many different things wrapped into one. A book of whimsical tales of violence and love with elements of sci-fi and fantasy, bundled into a book that’s as much of a coming of age novel as it is commentary on the role of ‘The Story’ in modern life. This never ending search for meaning in Mitchell’s work seems to be a consistent theme in both of his books that I’ve read.
However, unlike Ghostwritten the different facets of Mitchell’s second book aren’t separated into a web of interlinking stories. Instead Number9dream tries to embody a variety of different literary techniques that still follow one singular narrative: the story of Eiji Miyaki, a boy from a small island on the outskirts of Japan who has come to Tokyo in order to search for his estranged father.
You might be thinking that sounds like the plot of Murakami book, and you might be right. As another GoodReads reviewer mentioned ‘Mitchell wears his influences on his sleeve’ and the whole book certainly has an air of Murakami about it, but it also shows the progression of Mitchell’s story telling ability. My one criticism would be that the narrative becomes too jumpy at times, which can sometimes take away from the flow of the story. I wanted to read this as a book to get stuck into, one that would keep you hooked from beginning to end, and it didn’t quite accomplish that.
Mitchell splits each chapter into stories that alternate between reality and fiction. The first chapter bounces back and forth between Eiji’s real life where he is sitting in a coffee shop smoking cigarettes, and his runaway imagination where he is picturing himself as the lead in a sort of sci-fi thriller, or daydreaming that he’s chasing his fathers kidnapper into a movie theater which is showing a sinister, surreal film about a man who meets God in a mental hospital. Sounds weird? Yeah it is.
This hopscotch narrative takes some getting used to initially but in some ways it definitely adds to the book. However, as time goes on it can become slightly tedious – you’re just getting into the story and you have to push through a 4 or 5 pages of random imagination sequence or some sort of discontinued fable. These can be as entertaining as they are distracting depending on what sort of mood you’re in.
The benefit of all this jumping around is that Mitchell seems to use these devices to get across some of his literary messages, which often are quite sincere. Some of the best and most thoughtful quotes in the book come out of the blue in moments you wouldn’t necessarily expect:
Why did humans despise what was beautiful and good? Why did they destroy the things they needed the most? Mrs Comb could not understand human beings. She really could not understand.
So in summary I’ll give this book a 3.5* star rating (7/10). It’s just lacking in some of that resonance that authors like Murakami can produce in really simple prose. The story is interesting and engaging at points but some of the characters are lacking, and coincidences are a bit too frequent for my liking. Writing this it seems like this review is coming across negative, which I didn’t intend, but it’s often easier to pick the things you didn’t like about a book over the things you did. Mitchell is definitely a writer of rare imagination and I’m looking forward to reading Cloud Atlas or Bone Clocks in the future to see how he progresses as an author.
A book you read is not the same book it was before you read it. Maybe a girl you sleep with is not the same girl you went to bed with.