38. ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell

The Book:

The first time I read David Mitchell (it was ‘Cloud Atlas’), it blew my mind. Since then I’ve also read ‘Black Swan Green’, ‘Ghostwritten’ and now ‘number9dream’.

This book certainly lives up to the quality of the others. It’s more grounded in modern day reality than some of his other novels, but there are parts of the narrative where the main character dreams, or goes off into flights of imagination, so there’s also plenty of mind-bending fantasy to get your teeth into.

At its core it’s a fairly simple story: a young man called Eiji Miyake has moved to Tokyo from his small town home in Japan, to track down the father he never met. Along the way he gets embroiled in a touching romance, and the city’s sinister gangster underworld.

There are symbols dotted throughout the book. There are different symbols in each section and I loved working out what they each meant: in essence, every new chapter had an element of puzzling. For example, ☯ marks the beginning of a flashback, and ♌ shows that the narration has switched into extracts from a set of surreal short stories.

It is, of course, brilliantly written. The beginning had me hooked instantly – Eiji’s imagination drew me in, and I loved how escapes from his inadequacies into his internal adventures. Throughout the story Eiji develops hugely, and we find out more and more about his past, until he’s living through scenarios that are almost as fantastical as those he was imagining at the beginning, and being as gutsy as he dreamed he could be. The scenes with the gangsters are not for the squeamish – I found myself quite disturbed by some of the things I read – but I love how Mitchell doesn’t shy away from scaring his readers. His plot twists may be brutal, but they’re also entirely believable and necessary.

Ultimately, like many of Mitchell’s novels, there is a dreamlike quality to this book. His writing is often complex, so that you start off a chapter not knowing what it going on, and you have to decode all the little hints as you go through, resulting in a truly rich tapestry that you feel like you’ve woven yourself. Definitely one that could take two or three more readings. In short, I loved it.

The Background:

This one has been sitting on my shelf for so long, along with another of Mitchell’s books, ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’. As soon as I started it I could have kicked myself for leaving it so long.


If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?

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