Tuesday, 18 June 2002

David Mitchell: number9dream (2001)

Edition: Sceptre, 2001
Review number: 1097

It is, apparently, common for children who have never known a parent to weave fantasies about who they might be. Eiji Mayake is no exception, and as his twentieth birthday nears, he sets out for Tokyo to discover his identity through the only clue he has, the name of a lawyer. He is obsessed with John Lennon (which is one reason for the title) and his only skills are guitar playing and fruit picking, neither in much demand in the big city.

At the beginning, the novel is structured so that after a few paragraphs of reality, Mayake's fantasies take over, taking him, for example, into a James Bond world in which he stages a raid on the lawyer's office to get the name of his father. (This of course is another reason for the title.) After a while, it becomes much more difficult to distinguish "reality" and fiction. The nature of truth and fantasy is something which has fascinated many writers, possibly because of the irony inherent in any fictional treatment of the subject, but Mitchell manages to combine an experimental structure with an interesting readable story better (which includes several denunciations of the violence of the Yakuza) than many others who have tried to do this sort of thing. Mitchell has a fascination for playing with and subverting the forms of literature, part of a tradition which goes back to Tristram Shandy. (The final, ninth, section is precisely a case in point, as well as pointing back to the title and out from the story itself to what might happen afterwards.) While it doesn't seem derivative, nuber9dream reminds me of other writers as well as Sterne. I am sure that there are additional Japanese parallels I don't recognise, but I thought of early Iain Banks, John Barth and James Joyce (particularly in the Goatwriter stories) as I was reading number9dream.

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