Friday, April 3, 2020

Number9Dream by David Mitchell

This was the only David Mitchell novel I hadn’t yet read. Even if I didn’t like it so well as Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten or Number9Dream it is a very good book. Mitchell’s prose is always great, and he is capable of writing in a number of modes and voices, and this is no exception. There are a myriad of influences on this. There’s a little bit of Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There’s a strong video game strain. There’s an exaggerated, hyper-violent Yakuza style innocent-getting-caught-up-with-the-mob story. There’s a diary of a WWII era kamakaze pilot. Even though I’ve only read three Murakami books, I could really see the influence. A Japanese main character who is obsessed with the Beatles and jazz. A title taken from a Beatles/John Lennon song. An effortless movement back and forth from the mundane world to a sort of fantasy until even the “real world” of the novel feels fantastic.

What differentiates this from, say Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas or Slade House, is that while there are multiple narrators and the chapters each take a different style like those others, there is a first person narrator who provides at least half the narration of each chapter. And for all the stylistic flourishes and changes the book is essentially a coming of age, search-for-meaning story. The main narrator is Eiji Miyake, who is in search of his father who abandoned him, his mother and sister when the children were young. His sister has since died, his mother is in a mental health facility and has not spoken to him for years. The search for his father and, by extension meaning, is a through line probably makes the book his most linear excepting Black Swan Green.

The book also functions as a cautionary tale about magical thinking. As the tone of the story shifts from chapter to chapter so does Miyake’s sense of meaning, and what he wants. Despite the fantastical feel of even the non-imaginary events, he constantly is living in his mind, and it consistently makes things difficult for him. And yet, that fantasy world is an enjoyable place to spend some time, and the way in which Miyake changes as he navigates it is believable.

All in all, a very good book. Low to middle in my list of Mitchell novels, but that’s more about how well I like the others. Highly recommended.

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 22/75

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