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Number9Dream by David Mitchell

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Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#1  Postby DATo » 23 Nov 2012, 22:34

Number9Dream has been my latest foray into the innovative, post-modernistic, outrageously eclectic and entertaining world of author David Mitchell. Before reading Number9Dream I had just finished The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob deZote, also by David Mitchell, and therein lay my greatest problem.

In Thousand Autumns Mitchell employs a traditional me'tier of storytelling which is steeped in conventional style and form. Reading Thousand Autumns was much like walking a powerful Doberman Pinscer through a beautiful glade in which the squirrels are peacefully gathering acorns, the birds are trilling their beautiful songs, a verdant meadow to your left, the soothing view of a babbling brook to your right, and then you pick up Number9Dream ... and .... WHAM !!!!! ... the Doberman spots a rabbit, pulls the leash out of your hand, and you find yourself careening at breakneck speed though a dense and prickly forest in hot pursuit knowing not whence or whether you shall ever catch up. Branches tear at your face, you trip over fallen logs while screaming your dear pet's name at the top of your lungs in what appears to be a hopeless effort to regain control of the situation. Such was my experience with Number9Dream.

It was only after I had finished the novel and given it some thought that an image began to magically emerge from the morass of detail I had been reading. Mitchell once again performs a fantastically convoluted departure from anything we encounter in his other novels, this time embarking upon a psychological study of his protagonist which in many ways is reminiscent of Dostoyevsky.

The story takes place in Japan in the present. Twenty year old Eiji Miyake is on a journey to find a father he has never met. His quest takes him to the sprawling megalopolis of Tokyo and a modernistic cultural ethos for which his staid and rural upbringing has not prepared him. In the early chapters of the book his active imagination causes him to daydream and project himself, Walter Mitty-like, into fantastic scenarios. We follow him into these made up fantasies and then just as suddenly return with him to the reality he is trying to sort out. Later in the book the dreams are real dreams which sometimes grotesquely and other times comically mirror the events of his real life. Eiji's experiences in Tokyo introduce him to a variety of people, some of whom are kind; some manipulating; and others who are demonically evil.

His quest to find his father takes many unforeseen turns which embroil him in numerous, unpredictable adventures. During this journey he learns things he never knew about his ancestral past and through it all he carries a tremendous burden of two events which took place within 24 hours of each other when he was eleven years old which both elevated his spirits to etherial heights and then shattered him to pieces. There is a subtle, but to this reviewer's mind, unmistakable taste of Kafka to be found in this novel.

The book is primarily a psychological study of its principal character and in typical Mitchell style it is all over the map. The pieces begin to come together at the end but it is not a predictable ending by any means. In one of his sleeping dreams he meets John Lennon and they have a very entertaining conversation. For those who may not know it Lennon wrote a song called '# 9 Dream'.

"John-san," I say, "I don't know if I'll ever get another chance to say this, but your songs help me understand my life." John shrugs. "Your welcome. I wrote them for me an Yoko but if other people get a kick out of them, great." "What does the actual title of #9 Dream mean?" John thinks. "The meaning of the ninth dream begins after all meanings appear dead and gone."

The ninth chapter of this book is 'classic Mitchell' ... it is the ninth dream .... and in the absolute fewest words possible Mitchell solves the mystery of Lennon's words in a way that is guaranteed to amaze you, for you find the answer within yourself.

Recommended .... but rated capital R

/
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number9dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#2  Postby Gannon » 01 Dec 2012, 18:42

** SPOILER ALERT **

Number9dream is David Mitchell's second novel. The novel is about protagonist Eiji Miake who comes from rural Japan to the city in search for his father who abandoned him. Once again Mitchell mixes different genres into the one overall narrative but with this book he sticks with the one narrator, that being Miake.

The title of the book gives us a good idea about the novel. The novel is a series of dreams that Miake has, and the line between dream and reality is constantly blurred. Many times throughout the book we are left wondering if the latest chapter is reality or another dream.

Mitchell's prose is again a delight to read. An example from the first chapter where Miake is playing with his coffee. "I sugerize my coffee, rest my teaspoon on the meniscus, and sloooooowly drible the cream on to the bowl of the spoon. Pangaea rotates, floating unruptured before splitting into subcontinents."

For me number9dream slightly loses it's way in the middle of the book. In chapter five Miake is hiding in a writer's house where he finds a manuscript written by the writer. The chapter jumps back and forth between the main story and the manuscript that Miake has found. Although beautifully written, imho it is long, tedious and holds up the flow of the story. I think the book would have benefited if this chapter had been left out or cut drastically in the edit.

I love how whenever there is a numerical value in the story, be it an address, a date, time etc, it is always a nine. Add the numerals of some dates or times and they add up to nine. I don't know if there is a significance surrounding this continual use of the number nine. Perhaps it's another device that Mitchell uses to connect and join very different stories, or maybe it has something to do with alerting the reader to a dream sequence. Does it have something to do with Lennon's (who he meets in one of his dreams) song? I am not sure.

There is a degree of violence in the book. This violence is mainly found in parts of the book that involve the Japanese underworld and I believe that it is justified. The tone of the book would be compromised and the story would lose a degree of it's credability if the violence was left out. Using a movie as a comparison, it would be like the violence being taken out of "Kill Bill". It would not be the same book without the violence.

I have read four of the five Mitchell novels and imho this is his weakest. That is not to say that it is a bad book, in fact it is a testament to how good the other three books are. Compared to his other books the ending of number9dream just seems to peter out. However my view may change on future readings as I understand the novel better. I do like how chapter nine has no content.
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#3  Postby Gannon » 02 Dec 2012, 00:04

Hey DATo, I forgot that you had already started a post on number9dream as I was avoiding it until I finished the book. I started another post that Fran will now have to lock. I feel like a little kid waiting to get in trouble. :D

Great review. I did love the book, but it is my least favourite of his books. What do you think? I agree with you about chapter nine, classic. :D
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#4  Postby DATo » 02 Dec 2012, 04:33

Gannon wrote:Hey DATo, I forgot that you had already started a post on number9dream as I was avoiding it until I finished the book. I started another post that Fran will now have to lock. I feel like a little kid waiting to get in trouble. :D

Great review. I did love the book, but it is my least favourite of his books. What do you think? I agree with you about chapter nine, classic. :D


****** Possible Spoilers ******

I totally agree with you - least favorite.

It does have some redeeming merits though. As you mentioned in another thread the opening scenes with his daydreams was both different and humorous and there are moments of beautiful writing which to me is Mitchell's trademark. It just seemed that the story itself, if not the writing, was "harsh", for want of a better word, especially after reading the flowing and sonorous Thousand Autumns. I think this book is just another TYPE of story and you have to admit that Mitchell is all over the map when it comes to types of stories, settings, and plots.

I think what he was trying to do was write in such a way as to put the reader within the hectic lifestyle of a person living in Tokyo (20,000,000 people). We do not feel this hectic pace in the story of Eiji and his sister - in the part of the book where he is living in a rural setting.

My take on the overall message of the story is that in looking for the meaning we desire to find in one thing we sometimes find a greater meaning in something else, and come to learn that it is that "something else" that we were really looking for but didn't know it. I also thought it was interesting how our opinions of his mother and father change places as the story plays out.

I took that last chapter to mean that Eiji is no longer relying on dreams to find the meaning of life for all of those meanings now appear, as Lennon says, "dead and gone". He is running to find the things of importance in the REALITY of his life. Chapter 9 simply means there are no more dreams and illustrates that everything preceding it was rooted in the fantasy of Eiji's dream-like expectations.

I read your review and liked it VERY much. I'd hate to see Fran lock it out because you make a lot of good points in it that are worthy of discussion. Maybe you could copy/paste it to this thread?
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#5  Postby Fran » 02 Dec 2012, 05:43

Wow! see what I did there guys?, the awesome powers I have. :lol: :lol: :lol:
Now all I have to do is force myself not to read your posts until I get Ghostwritten finished. :wink:
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#6  Postby DATo » 02 Dec 2012, 06:22

Fran wrote:Wow! see what I did there guys?, the awesome powers I have. :lol: :lol: :lol:
Now all I have to do is force myself not to read your posts until I get Ghostwritten finished. :wink:


Oh !!!!!! You read my mind Fran. This is exactly what I would have done if I had your mystical, magical, awesomely omnipotent powers.

I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I DOOOOOOO believe in spooks!!! *While clicking the heels of his ruby slippers*
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#7  Postby Fran » 02 Dec 2012, 07:09

DATo wrote:
Fran wrote:Wow! see what I did there guys?, the awesome powers I have. :lol: :lol: :lol:
Now all I have to do is force myself not to read your posts until I get Ghostwritten finished. :wink:


Oh !!!!!! You read my mind Fran. This is exactly what I would have done if I had your mystical, magical, awesomely omnipotent powers.

I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I DOOOOOOO believe in spooks!!! *While clicking the heels of his ruby slippers*


I'm turning my mind to the issue of transmigration now .... should have it cracked by tea-time :roll:
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#8  Postby DATo » 02 Dec 2012, 07:45

Fran wrote:
DATo wrote:
Fran wrote:Wow! see what I did there guys?, the awesome powers I have. :lol: :lol: :lol:
Now all I have to do is force myself not to read your posts until I get Ghostwritten finished. :wink:


Oh !!!!!! You read my mind Fran. This is exactly what I would have done if I had your mystical, magical, awesomely omnipotent powers.

I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I DOOOOOOO believe in spooks!!! *While clicking the heels of his ruby slippers*


I'm turning my mind to the issue of transmigration now .... should have it cracked by tea-time :roll:


Now, Fran, .... if I am rereading Ghostwritten and find you on the Bat Segundo radio show I am going to scream like a woman and jump out the nearest window, which could be hazardous to my heath, as it is closed and fastened. (Don't know if you've gotten to that part of the book yet. Previous comment will make more sense when you do.)
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#9  Postby Gannon » 02 Dec 2012, 14:38

**** SPOILER ALERT *****

Howdy DAto,

Were you disappointed that the climax of the confrontation between Miyake and his Father, which builds up throughout the book, never takes place? Do you think it would improve the book if Miyake would have told his father who he was when delivering the pizza?

I felt let down at first, but having thought about it a bit more, I have come to like the way Mitchell has left it. I agree with your post, I think when Miyake finally meets his father, he realises that he has been chasing a "dream" that he does not really want to find. I think that he has dreamt and fantasized about it for so long that it fills his thoughts (which in essence, is the book) constantly. Do you agree? :D
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#10  Postby DATo » 02 Dec 2012, 15:22

********** SPOILERS ************


Gannon,

I feel the way you do about Miyake not telling his father who he was. I think by that point he realized that he had been chasing both an idea and an ideal which did not exist in reality but only in his dreams of it. He knew that there was no point in revealing himself to his father. It was one of those ... "Be careful what you wish for, it might come true." ... moments.

I think this is a very deep book Gannon. I tend to read to be entertained and to enjoy a good yarn but down in my gut I feel there are things going on in this novel which scream out for a deeper analysis. Like why did Mitchell give Miyake a sister, and what was her real role as a character in the novel? And of course there are the very cryptic manuscripts of children's stories which appear in the middle of the book. I know there is a much deeper significance to those stories but so far if I've been unable to figure it out. Then there is that extended digression about his ancestor and the Japanese submarine in WWII. Mitchell devotes too much time to this for it to be only a digression. It has a much deeper meaning I'm sure. Then there is the sword which was sold by Miyake's father and once again, as in Thousand Autumns, we have a family keepsake which is unappreciated by the heir.

No, there is a lot going on in this novel below the radar, and I am tempted to believe that though this may not be Mitchell's most entertaining book it may instead be one of his most thought provoking and intelligently sculpted books. I am already rereading Ghostwritten and I intend to reread all of his other books as well. I've come to the conclusion, and I think you have too by now, that all of Mitchell's books demand at least a second read.
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#11  Postby Gannon » 02 Dec 2012, 17:25

**** SPOILER ALERT ****

DATo,

I agree with you completely about the WW2 letters from his ancestor. Mitchell invests way too much time and effort into this part of the book(which is one of my favourite) for it to be just a flippant filler. :D
There has to, as you say, be more to this than meets the eye. For me this part of the story is never adequately finished.

Likewise, I believe that his sister plays an enormous role in the book. I think her suicide is integral to the main storyline but am not sure why. Maybe Miake, on some level, believes that he owes it to his sister to find their father. Maybe he believes that if he finds their father it will somehow assuage his guilt over her death. Maybe I am clutching at straws. :D

With regards to the manuscripts of the children's stories. This was my least favourite part of the book. I think that this chapter is way too long and laborious. However having said that I concur that there is a deeper meaning to this manuscript. If I find out what that is, it may change my mind totally.

I must admit, I had completely forgotten about the sword (there is so much going on in this book :D ).

I too will be reading this again. Please, please let me know of any breakthroughs or ideas you have. This book, like all his others, is stuck firmly in my mind.

Hurry up Fran, your input is sorely needed. :D
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#12  Postby DATo » 02 Dec 2012, 18:12

****** SPOILERS *****
Gannon,

Actually Anju did not commit suicide. Eiji tells Anju about the "whalestone" (a rock offshore) and that it is the fossilized back of a whale. She disputes this but tells him that she is going to swim to it someday. Eiji tells her that it would be impossible for her to do so and to put the idea out of her mind (or something like that). Anju is despondent that Eiji is going off to participate in his football match on the mainland. The event will bring him back the next day but she and Eiji have never been apart for even one day in their entire lives together and they have grown to depend totally upon each other since their parents are absent from their lives. Eiji and Anju are both the most important people in each others lives.

Remember that though they are the same age - twins and 11 years old at this point in the book - Anju is the more courageous and adventurous of the two. She prides herself on beating Eiji at tree climbing and other such activities but being a girl she cannot participate in his sports. I only recently came to the conclusion that she attempts to swim to the whalestone during his absence to prove, by accomplishing the impossible, that she is more worthy of his attentions than his sports team which she feels is a threat to her exclusivity to him. She tries to swim it but drowns in the attempt. She had begged Eiji not to go and so he carries the guilt of this into his adulthood. Maybe he feels that she risked everything for him so he must risk everything to achieve his goal of finding his father ... you see, he is doing the same thing she did, maybe as an acknowledgement and tribute to her courage and determination.

I'm not sure, but I think Mitchell is asking us to compare the brother and sister as two aspects of the same soul.

EDIT: Gannon, I took the book back to the library and I cannot refer to it. If there actually is any proof that she did in fact commit suicide please let me know. I don't remember reading anything that definitively pointed in that direction though. That (suicide) might change my entire perspective of the meaning of the book.
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Re: Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Post Number:#13  Postby Gannon » 02 Dec 2012, 22:25

EDIT: Gannon, I took the book back to the library and I cannot refer to it. If there actually is any proof that she did in fact commit suicide please let me know. I don't remember reading anything that definitively pointed in that direction though. That (suicide) might change my entire perspective of the meaning of the book.[/quote]

Thanks DATo, you are quite correct. Just finished re-reading the relevant part and Anju does indeed drown while trying to swim out to the "whalestone". I think that I believed Anju to have committed suicide because the night before Miyake goes to the mainland for his soccer match Anju is very upset and tells Miyake that in the village that day she had overheard that the story of their mother being sick was false, and she simply didn't want them. She is quite distraught and pleads and begs Miyake not to go to his match. As you point out the two of them are inseparable and are the most important person in each others life, they have nobody else. I thought that Anju found Miyake's refusal to stay a betrayal. This refusal on top of her finding out about their Mother abandoning them left her believing that she was completely alone and in a suicidal state. Apart from her outward confidence, I thought that deep down she knew she could not make it out to the whalestone, but decided to try, knowing she would fail and her death would punish Miyake. However looking back at it now these actions do not suit Anju's character at all.

Thanks to your post I found the passage where Anju believes that if they swim out to the whalestone and stand upon the rock it would take them to their family and they would be reunited. I had forgotten that they were only eleven years old and Anju being eleven, innocently believes this story and trys to swim out to the rock on her own proving to Miyake that she can do it and once again beat him at another activity. All the evidence points to this and it fits Anju's character.

Thanks very much DATo, you have just proved that I really do need to give it a second reading. :D :D
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