atypicalreview

number9dream

“So you created our universe?”
“Quite. 9 days ago. […] May I propose an objective experiment to verify my claims?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Belgium.”
“Belgium?”
“I don’t suppose even the Belgians would miss it, do you?”

The books I’ve been reading for the last few years can all be broken down into three categories:

The most variable of these is the middle type. I’m still in the middle of Uncle Tungsten due to the narrator’s painful dullness. Dude, Where’s my Country took me two days to devour. number9dream took longer to read — but every page was a pleasure. Named for a song by John Lennon — who does crop up a few times in the book — number9dream is partially set in modern-day Japan, but mostly inside the head of its hero.

Tokyo … a crazy world of neon signs, organised crime and paranoid citizens

David Mitchell’s story is about a country boy searching for his never-met father in the big city. It sounds cliched, and for about three pages I was a bit concerned… but no more than that. The novel is dynamic, engaging and thrilling, but not so clever that you’re removed from the story. Despite all manners of amusing devices being used, the characters engage you firmly, and strong ideas shine through. The prose is a big part of this — some tracts are as dazzling as my copy’s cover proclaimed the book to be. “Every time I think of the girl, my heart sort of squid-propels itself.” I can’t think of a more perfect description.

The novel hits the ground running — I challenge anyone not to love the first chapter to pieces. After the initial obfuscation, we’re introduced to Eiji Miyake — perhaps the most perfectly drawn 20 year old I’ve ever read about. There’s a tendency for writers attempting to capture the spirit of young adults to just write themselves, but make them do something stupid every chapter. That’s not the case here. We spend a lot of time in Eiji’s head, and not a second isn’t both enjoyable and authentic.

Some parts of the novel aren’t quite as perfect. There’s segments of a children’s book that turn up at one point which didn’t engage me so much, and some of the organised crime that peppers the narrative flies just a bit further over the top than I thought suited the story — though this of course is very subjective. The introduction of an organ-trafficking conspiracy seems occasionally over the top. But these quibbles are easily balanced by a beautifully drawn love story, Eiji’s painful past, and the emotional path he traces as he follows his father.

The settings are also memorably written. Tokyo comes alive incredibly — though I’ve got no way of telling whether it does so accurately also. A crazy world of neon signs, organised crime and paranoid citizens contrasts with Eiji’s dreamy, mythical childhood. The memories of him and his twin sister growing up without their mother reminded me of Ahrundati Roy’s The God of Small Things, with their secret languages and enigmatic conversations. But this novel isn’t content to sit in one genre for very long. Though occasionally the narrative’s skipping may irritate a reader who was looking forward to a particular moment that has been glossed over, usually there’s something fresh to save you from your annoyance.

Comedy, romance, crime, family, techno-thriller, historical memoir, coming-of-age, tragedy. As a dodgy advertising campaign must surely have once claimed — there’s something in it for everyone. number9dream is lyrical, sad, happy and vibrant and eminently lovable. You’ll never think of bowling in the same way again, however.

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