Book Review: number9dream by David Mitchell

Cover art of number9dream by David Mitchell
Cover art of number9dream by David Mitchell

After reading Cloud Atlas two years ago, David Mitchell immediately became one of my favorite writers. His natural ease for crafting a richly layered narrative was, and still is mesmerizing to me. I had wanted to read number9dream immediately following Cloud Atlas, particularly because of the experimental narrative style, but unfortunately, two years of college essays and unending reading assignments hindered my progress. I finally had the chance to sit down and finish number9dream this summer after starting the book last year. 

Number9dream follows the story of Eiji Miyake, a 20 year-old (initially 19 year-old) young man from the island of Yakushima in Japan. The story begins shortly after he has temporarily moved to Tokyo and takes place sometime in the future, although the exact year is never specified.

Eiji’s journey to Tokyo is in part prompted by the death of his twin sister Anju, even though her death really takes place years prior when the pair are both 12 years old. Finding it difficult to cope with her absence even years past, Eiji sets out to seek some closure through finding their father, whom neither had ever met.  Eiji leaves home to accomplish this, knowing only that his father is a wealthy man from his absent mother’s past who still resides in Tokyo.

Upon first arriving in Tokyo, Eiji is able to quickly find a small apartment above a video store and a menial job working at the lost property office at a train station, thanks to some minor connections. However, these small accomplishments pale in comparison to the grandiosity of the search for his father, which starts off with a bang in chapter one. The reader is barraged with a series of action-fueled scenarios in which Eiji seems to nearly make contact with his biological father. Each scene is equally worthy of a large-scale action film and equally as improbable as the reader realizes they are all creations in Eiji’s wondrously imaginative mind.

In actuality, Eiji’s paternal search quickly hits a wall as he reaches out to a lawyer who might have information regarding his paternity, only to be informed that she cannot disclose this confidential information. Despite this setback, Eiji’s own adventures in Tokyo begin to flare. Initially, Eiji spends his time primarily shuttling from work to his tiny capsule apartment and back, until nearly by happenstance, he finds himself entangled in the Yakuza networks of Tokyo, after befriending a rich law student named Yuzu Daimon. After a wild night with Yuzu and two models, Eiji finds himself fleeing a love hotel through the kitchen after escaping a surly body guard and a psychotic chef.

Unfortunately for Eiji, his night of lasciviousness is only the beginning of his exposure to Tokyo’s criminal underground as he later finds himself kidnapped by two Yakuza members, indebted to a major crime boss, and witness to a several instances of violence and destruction. However, these occurrences of debauchery and brutality are in turn juxtaposed with the innocence of his burgeoning crush on a talented and pretty, young musician named Ai Imajo, as Eiji tries to return to a calmer routine,

Eventually returning to his apartment from these dangerous confrontations Eiji finds some moments of respite with his new friend Ai, but continues to bounce around Tokyo working a new job at a cheap pizza restaurant and continuing the search for his father, nearly facing death in one or two more instances. As his search continues, Eiji is often led to chase false leads and comes up more lost than he was before. Frustrated by the continuous dead ends in the midst of his search, Eiji is faced with surprising encounters from other family members, some completely unknown to him, instead.

The novel itself is divided into 9 chapters, prompted by the title (which is also a reference to the John Lennon song of the same name), each characterized by a specific storytelling device. This in turn creates an intricate textile of interwoven narratives as author David Mitchell, experiments with flashbacks, fantasies, dreams, and stories within stories to encompass the intricate facets of Eiji’s physical and emotional development.

By the time the story reaches its denouement the reader may feel confused or frustrated with the lack of complete resolution. Mitchell’s storytelling devices, however, prompt one to reconsider the veracity of nearly everything read beforehand. Was the entire novel simply an elaborate dream? Or has danger struck Eiji and his friends?

Number9dreamThe novel as a whole is an interesting and refreshing take on a coming of age story. Eiji’s inner monologue, which ping pongs between his fantasies, his fears, and the minutiae of his daily life, is instantly relatable to anyone who has felt lost at life’s crossroads. Throughout the story’s dark moments, the novel maintains a lightness in the face of danger, which Mitchell also uses to poke fun at overused writing tropes. Still, the novel’s levity allows for pockets of rumination to pierce through and highlight the story, pushing the reader to rethink the construction of one’s own identity and family relations.

Number9dream was a pleasure to read and certainly solidified my adoration of David Mitchell as a writer. I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys deeply imaginative fiction.

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