number9dream by David Mitchell

I’ll preface this by saying I read Cloud Atlas last fall, avoided the movie, and am pretty enamored with David Mitchell. I’m already fiending to read more of his work. Cloud Atlas unreels its nested narratives artfully, and Mitchell’s transitions between very diverse voices is unbelievable to witness. number9dream offers much of the same literary craftiness.

Unlike Cloud Atlas, this story has one central narrative told through the eyes of our hero, Eiji Miyake. He has come to Tokyo from his rural island home to find his father, whom he has never met. The book is divided into 9 parts, which unspool chronologically. We follow Eiji from his early days in Tokyo, broke and distracted, living above a video rental store, to his two odd jobs in a city he can’t quite understand, and onward into frightening adventures and travels back to his birthplace. Each section has a sort of sub-plot (if you can call it that) that arises from something Eiji reads or interacts with in the chapter (e.g. an author’s fantasy manuscript, his great uncle’s journal from WWII). These intertwine with the immediate events and lend a fantastic element to what could have a been a very straightforward story. The story benefits hugely from these apt side stories.

The search for his father is the central driving force of the book, but Eiji obviously has much more going on: an absent mother, grumpy bosses, a crush on a waitress, encounters with the fiercely savage Tokyo underworld, and a long-dead twin sister. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Murakami connection. Like Murakami, Mitchell weaves together a narrative from various interconnected pieces. Eiji himself admits almost finishing The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (what happened to that fellow in the well?!). And nearing the end (this isn’t really a spoiler), a dreamed of John Lennon tells Eiji that #9 Dream (the song) is a descendant of Norwegian Wood (the Beatles song). It can’t be coincidence that one of Murakami’s most popular books in Japan is called Norwegian Wood and this number9dream is descendant in kind.  Not to say Mitchell is stealing from Murakami—there are innumerable similarities, but this book is all Mitchell. The writing is brilliant (not that Murakami’s isn’t…), and like Cloud Atlas, the various voices and dialogue is all crafted elegantly as can be. And the story itself is terrifyingly compelling. Ready yourself for moments as savage as those in Murakami’s WWII scenes.

I’m starting to ramble, but don’t let my nonsense influence the quality of this book. I urge you to pick it up, especially if you enjoyed Cloud Atlas (read this now if you haven’t) and are a Murakami fan. It’s another breathtaking piece of work by one of Britain’s best.

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