Number9Dream: Mitchell goes 3-3


So normally I’m not so interested in dream sequences in books. I find them distracting, or a sort of discount warehouse for the novel’s symbols. But the opening dream sequences of David Mitchell’s number9dream, and every dream sequence that follows, so blurs the line between dream-reality and so thoughtfully provokes questions about the purpose of dreams in our lives (dreams here as both our aspirations and our night time wanderings) that rather than sighing and soldiering through the sequences I found myself relishing them.

Our protagonist’s – Eiji – quest to find and meet his father ostensibly structures the book in a quest narrative that involves the usual host of demons to slay (in this case those in the Japanese mafia), helpful collaborators, and distracting side-adventures. While I’d rather not give much away in terms of the climax, I will say that it is not – as one might realize early on in the novel – a climax of plot, and more a climax of character, as Eiji comes to realize what is expected of him as a son, a brother, a lover, a man.

On this subject – the slippery roles of Eiji-as-man – I issue one of my few complaints about this book, and that is that intimate relationships aren’t consummated in a described physical encounter. The long anticipated reunion with Eiji’s mother, for instance, is only narrated after the fact (and briefly) in a way that makes this reader wonder whether it ever happened. And the intimate – or potentially intimate – relationship between Eiji and Ai is similarly evanescent. So in writing this complaint I realize that it should perhaps be better put as praise, as once again Mitchell adds a layer to the question of what we can know for sure in this text – what we can know for sure in our lives and relationships. Are these ephemeral relationships not the perfect representation of how we know and interact with one another? through declarations, through descriptions and narrations of the story of our relationships – the story of our lives – and perhaps only ever in the remembrance of the physical, the memory of once having touched. Hmm.

So my other minor complaint (which I am happy to have resolved by a more attentive reader): what’s the deal with the computer virus/mafia organ/corruption plot line?

As for the ubiquity of the number 9 in the text – it really is everywhere – and its supposed ‘unluckiness’ (wikipedia tells me that it is unlucky because of its similarity to ‘pain’ or ‘distress’) I can’t say that 9 operates consistently as an either lucky or unlucky symbol, more as a kind of anchor that reminds the reader both to pay attention, and that these kinds of superstitious or serendipitous (so much of the plot relies on unlikely encounters) may be all that can be relied upon in a reality as slippery and unpredictable as ours.

So the first book of 2012 is a triumph of gorgeous language: Mitchell consistently delivers beautiful writing that really does make this reader feel X – nope, just feel. number9dream reads, as a whole, like a dream itself – the unexpectedness of events, the sharpness of some details and the opacity of other major events, the acceptance of the illogical without demand or want of explanation, the fleeting appearance of characters, the lingering feeling on waking – or closing the book – that something significant just transpired, but the reluctance to say just (or only) what.


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Filed under British literature, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction, Prize Winner

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