Number9Dream, David Mitchell, Random House, 2001, 400 pp
Summary from Goodreads: David Mitchell follows his eerily precocious, globe-striding first novel, Ghostwritten, with a work that is in its way even more ambitious. In outward form, number9dream is a Dickensian coming-of-age journey: Young dreamer Eiji Miyake, from remote rural Japan, thrust out on his own by his sister’s death and his mother’s breakdown, comes to Tokyo in pursuit of the father who abandoned him. Stumbling around this strange, awesome city, he trips over and crosses—through a hidden destiny or just monstrously bad luck—a number of its secret power centers. Suddenly, the riddle of his father’s identity becomes just one of the increasingly urgent questions Eiji must answer. Why is the line between the world of his experiences and the world of his dreams so blurry? Why do so many horrible things keep happening to him? What is it about the number 9? To answer these questions, and ultimately to come to terms with his inheritance, Eiji must somehow acquire an insight into the workings of history and fate that would be rare in anyone, much less in a boy from out of town with a price on his head and less than the cost of a Beatles disc to his name.
This was the second novel in my year end David Mitchell readathon and is the second novel he published. I went into it having read no reviews of it, therefore having no preconceived notions except excited anticipation because of how much I admired Ghostwritten.
Eiji Miyake is a young man who has left the tiny Japanese village where he grew up to go in search of the father he has never met. He is 20 years old but seems younger, probably due to his limited experience of city life. The reader soon learns that he is a twin, that he lost his twin sister in a tragedy, and that his mother was never married but is in fact an alcoholic who left the twins to be raised by their grandmother. Eiji may not have worldly experience but most of his life so far has been full of deep sorrows.
Now that is a perfect set up for a coming-of-age story built around a quest for a missing parent. Eiji is also a budding guitarist with a lively imagination. His first stake-out, across from an office tower where his father's business is located is so riddled with imaginative scenes but is such a failed enterprise, I feared for his safety and his mind.
But Eiji is a plucky if hapless lad, he is consumed by his quest, and pretty soon I realized his underlying strength was going to see him through all the horrific things that happen to him. He is a combination of Holden Caufield, David Copperfield, Murikami's Kafka, and almost every one of Neal Stephenson's early heroes.
One additional but crucial plot point is Eiji's love of music: jazz and John Lennon to be exact. This is where the dreams come in. The novel's title is also the name of a John Lennon song. There are nine chapters. There are countless dreams.
Though this novel is centered on one character, as opposed to the many protagonists of Ghostwritten, though it follows a start to finish narrative arc, it is still an elaborate puzzle covering philosophical and societal themes, not to mention a poignant love story.
I was captivated on every page. Some parts were confusing but the story never sagged and I felt securely in the hands of a trustworthy spinner of tales. I finished the book eager to begin my rereading of Mitchell's third novel, Cloud Atlas.
Number9Dream is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)