Book Review: Number 9 Dream, by David Mitchell
It’s a rare book that leaves you saddened by the ending for reasons other than that your time with the characters has ended. Number 9 Dream – the title refers to John Lennon’s song of the same name, and he makes several guest appearances in main character Eiji Miyake’s dreams – is one such book. You want Eiji, who reminds me of many of the hapless protagonists in Haruki Murakami’s novels, to stick around long enough to attend your funeral, so that you never have to attend his.
But beyond that, there is Mitchell’s writing. The man’s blessed with the kind of creativity and writing skills Robin Williams had as a comedian: the ability to connect two unrelated things and relate them to you in a way that seems obvious when it's actually pure genius. A few quotes as examples:
“A book you finish reading is not the same book it was before you read it.”
“Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were or the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.”
“The body is the outermost layer of the mind.”
“Our ancestors built temples for their gods. We build department stores.”
That’s just a few of the many, many incredible sentences Mitchell creates in this book, as he does in most others. That this story takes place in turn of the 21st century Japan adds an exotic flavor to the telling, in that we get insights into Japanese culture, cuisine and history from an author who spent a decade there teaching English to Japanese students.
A few things you should know about Mitchell if you’ve never read him before: he innovates by departing from accustomed standards in one way or another in most of his books. In Number 9 Dream one paragraph can contain dialogue from more than one person; a scene can move from one place or time without a chapter or mid-chapter break; and paragraphs tend to be long and encompassing. Just go with the flow, as you should whenever you come across Mitchell’s many tangential stream-of-consciousness riffs that aren’t essential to the story, but nonetheless fascinating. That’s just Mitchell being Mitchell – showing off his talent because he can.
The book is utterly absorbing as you follow Eiji on his journey to find and confront the father he never knew, instead runs head-on into the Yakuza - the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia - finds odd jobs and initiates a romance (which is really the only part of the book that isn’t up to Mitchell’s high standards), communicates from time to time with the alcoholic mother who abandoned him as a child and has very vivid dreams. But all that is window-dressing: read Mitchell for his writing style, his creativity, and his uncanny creativity and you will savor every sentence, start to finish.