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Intelligent, Well Written but Self Concious
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.