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on 1 July 2009
Number 9 Dream is a captivating and intelligent novel, well written - as one would expect from David Mitchell, and with some deep themes. The book is about a Japanese young man who is in search of the father who abandoned his family when he and his twin sister were born. He is also haunted by another significant event of his past.

Through the book, the search for his father gradually bears fruit, but ultimately it becomes clear that this knowledge was never important, as the protagonist - Eiji - comes of age through a series of enlightening experiences.

But this is no ordinary coming of age novel as much of the action takes place in Eiji's head. His dreams are as important to the narrative as the real events - and sometimes its a little tricky to separate what is real from what is imagined.

In the end, we see that the number 9 dream is that which starts after every ending. That is, when the other issues are resolved and Eiji comes out of the dream world and seems to wake up into this world, the 9th dream begins - the beginning of Eiji's real life. (Shades of the much shorter "Dandelion Wine" here!)

Parts of this novel were gripping, and the whole narrative sweeps you along. However it is not my favourite book for various reasons - most notably that this seems to be a rather self conscious attempt to write a Murakami novel by David Mitchell. The very title hints at this. #9 Dream is a song by John Lennon. Murakami, of course, achieved fame through his "Norwegian Wood". Indeed, the dialogue in this book compares #9 Dream with the song Norwegian wood.

Eiji is also found to be reading "Wind Up Bird Chronicle" as he contemplates his death - wondering what will become to the man stuck down the dry well.

And there are many other subtle references to Murakami. The structure of the book has trademark Murakami surrealism. We have love hotels and prostitutes and bad sex. We have the multiple threads and war time reminiscences. At times I thought I actually was reading Murakami.

Anyone who has seen my reviews will know I am not actually a big Murakami fan, because of his tendency to drop all the threads without resolution. Mitchell does not do that - except for the very deliberate new thread that is dropped at the end of chapter 8. But all the same, I think I would prefer to read David Mitchell for David Mitchell. I love his humour, his power of description, his ability to write in different voices, and his understanding of how to write a good story.

This book contained all of the above, but I hope his future works are less self consciously derivative.
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on 21 March 2007
This is the last of David Mitchell's current output I have read. After being utterly enamoured by 'Cloud Atlas', 'Ghostwritten' and 'Black Swan Green' I was really looking forward to this. I'd have to say though that this is the hardest read of Mitchell's four books. The other three really WERE "unputdownable" but this one I had to give up on half way through and come back to it after a few weeks.

The central figure of the book is Eiji Miyake, a kid from the sticks, and his adventures in the Tokyo metropolis. He arrives in Tokyo on a mission to find his biological father, having lost his twin sister in an accident and been abandoned by his mother. The book tells the story of his seven weeks in Tokyo. The narrative employs Mitchell's trademark magical realism to illustrate Eiji's travails.

Like all of Mitchell's other works, 'Number9dream' is best seen as a collection of tales rather than an uninterrupted story. It flits between reality and Eiji's imagination with ease. I found this fine for the first part of the book but I got lost in the chapter "Study of Tales". For the first time reading Mitchell I didn't get the point! I still don't know what the stories Eiji was reading here were about. Perhaps I'm just not perceptive enough, but this felt like a little bit of Emperor's New Clothes. Hate to be too critical but there you are!

The rest of the book is thoroughly enjoyable and I'm glad I read it. I particularly liked the Yakuza sequences. Very violent, very Manga. The chapter describing the war diaries of Eiji's great uncle was also very well written.

A good book but not as good as the rest of David Mitchell's work. If you're coming to him fresh read 'Cloud Atlas' or 'Ghostwritten' first.
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on 30 July 2003
I read a review of this book that wondered how the author managed to get this published. I can only assume that this person is a frustrated, unpublished writer, because this sounds suspiciously like sour grapes to me. I knew David very briefly (and very slightly) when we were teenagers and he was always writing like a dervish even then. It was always clear that he was immensly talented, and these books prove it. I loved this one, and adored 'Ghostwritten' which I've read over and over again. When you finish it you want to go straight back to the beginning and start again. Number9Dream is great, but buy both books, is my advice. I just hope he gives us another book soon, can't wait. And David if you read this, bloody well done, mate.
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on 14 February 2002
David Mitchell is clearly a very talented writer. Ghostwritten was an extraordinary and moving book, which deserved all the plaudits it received. "Number9dream" is also a fine book, which I'd recommend to anyone, though I think Ghostwritten is the better book.
The central story is a young guy up from the country to Tokyo (popular location for young male English writers...) to find the father he never knew. Sounds dull and cliched but it isn't. Naturally there's baggage: a dead twin sister, an alcoholic mother who abandoned them at a young age, family feuds - and these are dealt with with a sensitive touch. The main character is likeable, as are many of the supporting cast.
Great though this book is, though, I can't help feeling that there's a better book inside it waiting to get out ... that it needed to be trimmed a little, and tightened up. For example - and I'm quite prepared to believe that I'm just missing something here - to me the "Goatwriter" sections added nothing to the book as a whole or the story and just seemed like a self-indulgent exercise at writing in a particular (and highly irritating) style. Other sections just looked as if they were creative writing exercises that were put in for effect, again adding nothing ... you can't always get away with this by just calling it a dream sequence.
A lot of the story gets pretty improbable: I think I counted three occasions on which the main character could have been killed by yakuza but was freed - come on, which is a pity since that detracts from the book as a whole. Some characters just kind of fizzle out too, having looked as though they might play a bigger role. I'm thinking especially of Yuzu Daimon, whom I was actually looking forward to seeing more of. Maybe in the sequel, eh?
Anyway, never mind this carping - buy this book, and buy Ghostwritten too. I hope he's working on the next one.
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on 5 March 2001
Number9Dream is a stunning drawing together of consciousness, fantasy, fiction, history, diary and dream that holds up the dilemma of the contemporary consciousness. Culture draws upon all these areas of reality perception, continually reinventing one as the other without ever finding a true centre. It is this that Mitchell's writing does so well - the tenuous yet persistent interconnectivity of separate modes of reality, whether different lives or forms of cultural experience. The ever increasing dovetailing in culture of ancient alongside new, national with international, individual and cultural, organic and technologic, western and non-western - without reconciliation - makes modern Japan a perfect setting for his story. The style is less tight than his first novel Ghostwritten, but is far more playfull and daring in scope. It is very much an example of the dream literature spearheaded by Haruki Murakami in Japan in novels such as The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.
The central story is about a twenty year old man who once beheaded the Thunder God in his small agricultural island to avenge the death of his twin sister and who has come to an overwhelming Tokyo to seek his father. The identity of his father lurks behind every door in the complex plot - but as each is opened he vanishes. A buildungsroman where the extreme violence at the hands of the Yakuza is contrasted to the polite sensitivity of the firstperson narrator Eijo, whose self-effacing love of the girl with the perfect neck sweeps aside the cultural differences of class, wealth and education. Immersion in the reality of an amusement arcade motorbike race is wrapped up with a visit to a geisha house and fantasies of virtual reality gaming violence, sales of body parts, Pentagon hacking and email viruses are part of life for this impoverished orphan living in a rented capsule above a video shop. Modern life is shown as an extraordinary pastiche where the most satisfactory outcome of the search for meaning can only be gratification from the (enthralling) search itself.
Mitchell doffs his hat at Murakami in his statement that John Lennon's #9Dream is a progression upon the Beatles' Norwegian Wood (also the title of a novel by Murakami). Both he claims are songs about aloneness and certainly the novels are about being alone or anomy. Number9Dream novel borrows from the Telemachus tradition of the son searching for a father. The 'Goatwriter' interludes borrows from the Mousetrap tradition, and works to highlight extreme pastiche of modern society, with the Goatwriter - echoing of the title of Mitchell's first novel Ghostwritten - searching for the Holy Grail of writing, the untold tale. It reminded me of Wim Wenders Until the End of the World where characters travel from Europe under threat of war to the centre of Australia to find the foundations of dreams and writing - and the Goatwriter story, like the 'Mousetrap', is a miniture of the concerns of the novel itself in its reflections on reality, dream and self.
And in summary: I couldn't put it down.
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on 5 September 2002
The layers in this book keep you wanting to read. The jumping between different times, different environments, different realities. It is a very visual book and sometimes very perplexing. The grim realities of cheap noodles are set against fantasy computer games, clearly removed from reality.
AS it states on the cover - yes you do wonder if it all was a dream but either way it doesn not disapoint. A more narrative book than ghostwriter.
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on 10 September 2012
One of the best books I've ever read. Truly, it's right up there with the best. I won't go into the plot, other reviewers have done a grand job of doing that, so I'll leave my appraisal of the novel at that: one of the best books I've ever read.

Unfortunately, it is also the worst Kindle conversion I've ever read. Truly awful. Line endings, spaces, and other spurious characters have been stripped out willy-nilly; and not just here and there, there are handfuls missing. Yuk! It hurts when reading such a good book.

I spent 30 years converting texts, SGML, XML, XSL, XSLT, there are dozens of algorithms and regexes, so there can be no excuse for this kind of shoddy workmanship.

My recommendation would be to buy the hard copy.

The W.D.P.S - Book One
The U.D.P.S.
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on 30 September 2011
I found this book in a charity shop in Wales and abandoned it in a holiday cottage in Cornwall after I'd finished it. In a way I think that reflects my attitude to it.

It's frustrating, because some parts were very well written. The detail on Japan was great as usual, I loved the Yakuza stories, and I enjoyed the stories about Japanese suicide submarines during the war. Other parts were less good, and the section about the Goatwriter was baffling - I skipped most of it as it was too painful to read.

It read to me like a whole bunch of different stories marshalled together in an attempt to make a whole, but for me that didn't work - it felt disjointed and too long. It feels like an early novel by an author yet to hit his stride, and I guess Mitchell goes on to manage this idea more successfully in Cloud Atlas.
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on 31 July 2001
In Ghostwritten Mitchell excelled when confronted with the Other; in the superb opening tale of a Japanese subway bombing, or the epic story of a soul's journey through many hosts in its search for its origin. That novel failed when the basic components were familiar, when the plot and characters occupied recognisable spaces, and when Mitchell overreached in terms of the variety of tales he told. In Number9dream the book achieves a degree of unity - it basically follows the story of a young man looking for his father in Tokyo, this plotline interrupted, delayed, sped up and dropped by other voices and stories that want to be heard. Tokyo is described in terms of an opaque, fast, towering underworld, a reference to the subterranean region of the mind accessible through dreams. Therefore, as Eiji experiences a psychological resolution to his quest, by returning to his starting point, can Tokyo's complex, overwhelming landscape be razed to the ground. The novel is verbally lush, some sections extraordinary (the double date, the kaiten pilot's diary), whereas some parts are weaker, owing again to familiarity (movie-ish false start opening chapter) or overreaching in style (the goatwriter sections). However, it is a beautiful book, full of amusing, lovely, believable and complicated characters, and Eiji as protagonist reacts always with a reassuring lack of pretension to the mad, unreal reality that he occupies in the loud, overcrowded city.
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We all thought Mitchell's Cloud Atlas was excellent, and were keen to read more by him. This book has elements in common with that one: the interweaving narratives, the cross-connections, the allusions and the clever use of dialogue. But the subject is widely removed from there and, at first glance, looks like an advanced exercise from a creative writing class: "Imagine you're a young man looking for his father. In Tokyo. And you've come from a remote part of Japan. Describe your feelings, adventures, fantasies, impressions..."

According to the blurb, Mitchell lived in Japan for some time, but you still get the idea that he's chosen a challenging topic. It's to his credit, then, that he succeeds so well: the picture he paints of the urban compression of Tokyo is - as far as I can recall from my visits there - exact, and he subtly highlights the contempt that city dwellers have for people from the country (just like, you realise, in every other country in the world). He also makes clever use of speech patterns to distinguish between characters from different backgrounds (to give the most extreme example, he grafts cockney accents onto Yakuza thugs, which seems to be precisely appropriate). The multiple stories seen in "Cloud Atlas" appear here as well - there's a sequence describing the training of Japanese suicide submariners in WWII that's particularly effective - and they all combine together to make this a richly-faceted novel, and a deeply satisfying reading experience.
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