Saturday, 18 April 2015

Book Review: number9dream by David Mitchell

David Mitchell’s second novel, number9dream has all the typical hallmarks of its writer. Interconnected stories—check. Historical pastiche—check. Blurred lines between fantasy and reality—check.

We follow teenaged Eiji Miyake in his search for his father in Tokyo, in a journey which veers wildly from one writing style to another.

So we might be thrown into Eiji’s delusional fantasies involving him storming a building with guns to steal his father’s file, or into a violent encounter with the Yakuza, which Mitchell still manages to execute with characteristic drollness. Every chapter is a new puzzle to solve. You’re disorientated as you’re chucked into some new and bizarre slant and have to work out what the hell’s going on—and on the whole, it works.

Tokyo is a vivid consumerist bubble, a Blade Runner-ish city (at one point Eiji watches Blade Runner in the video shop he lives above and works in) layered with colours and sights and smells. A twenty-four hour city which exists in stark contrast to the backwardly beautiful Hicksville in which Eiji grew up.

Eiji is a likeable character too, as he embarks on his Bildungsroman journey of origins and identity. He spends a lot of time lying in his capsule above the video shop, looking after the stray feline Cat and waging war on the pesky Cockroach. He even finds the girl of his dreams (entranced by the back of her lovely neck) in between dodging Yakuza factions, trying not to get blown up and hunting for his father. Is it all in Eiji’s head? Is some of it? Who knows?

Where number9dream falters is perhaps in the execution of its ambition. While Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks gelled together, number9dream is sometimes just a bit too sprawling and disconnected. Some of the segments don’t work as well as the others—particularly one section where Eiji goes into hiding.

He discovers an author’s manuscript about a chicken and a writing goat and suddenly we’re in the murky waters of metafiction. And I think we’d all agree, this is where we do not wish to be. Another section follows the doomed pilot of one of the manned suicide torpedoes (Kaitens) during WW2. It should be fascinating, and while the pilot’s journals pertinently talk about his family back in Nagasaki during the summer of 1944, the section still doesn’t quite ignite our interest.

Still, it’s an engrossing read and the ending is suitably Mitchell-esque in its apocalyptic doom and gloom. A flawed but vivid novel.

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