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the Complete Review
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David Mitchell

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To purchase number9dream

Title: number9dream
Author: David Mitchell
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 400 pages
Availability: Number9Dream - US
number9dream - UK
number9dream - Canada
number9dream - India
Number 9 Dream - Deutschland
Sogno numero 9 - Italia
  • Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining and imaginative, though somewhat scattershot

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Evening Standard A 23/4/2001 J.B. Maunsell
The Guardian B 10/3/2001 Steven Poole
The Guardian A 6/4/2002 Carrie O'Grady
London Rev. of Books . 7/6/2001 James Francken
New Statesman B 12/3/2001 Hugo Barnacle
Newsweek A+ 25/3/2002 Malcolm Jones
The NY Times . 15/3/2002 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 24/3/2002 Daniel Zalewski
The New Yorker . 18/3/2002 .
The Observer B 11/3/2001 Robert MacFarlane
San Francisco Chronicle . 17/2/2002 Andrew Roe
The Spectator C- 10/3/2001 Robert Edric
The Times . 28/2/2002 R.C. Jones
TLS B+ 2/3/2001 Shomit Dutta
The Village Voice C 5/3/2002 Joy Press

  Review Consensus:

  Talented writer, interesting bits, otherwise no consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "The endlessly side-tracking narrative moves through a vast repertoire of genres - quest, quirky romance, cyber-thriller, family saga. At times, the different voices verge on cacophony. But that's the point. The wonderfully energetic prose is constantly entertaining, filled with daring imaginative stunts and the crackling rhythms of the digital age." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard

  • "The prose bespeaks a kind of observational rapture that offers the smell of Tokyo streets or even the movements of a cockroach as tiny, cherishable shards. Mitchell also adores larger-scale formal tricks, which are not always convincingly integrated with his subject matter." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "Number9dream is a delirious mix of thriller, tragedy, fantasy, video games and a portrait of uneasy modern Japan" - Carrie O'Grady, The Guardian

  • "Mitchell has produced a novel as accomplished as anything being written. Funny, tenderhearted and horrifying, often all at once, it refashions the rudiments of the coming-of-age novel into something completely original. (...) Number9Dream is always at least as much fun as a good carnival ride -- or a good pop tune" - Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

  • "Mitchell successfully adopts Murakami's catchy style: potboiler escapism with experimental tweaks and melancholy humour. Some parts are more successful than others, however, and not all the digressions are worthwhile. (...) So Mitchell couldn't think of a proper ending; but much of the book is a riot, expertly staged." - Hugo Barnacle, New Statesman

  • "(O)dd, fitfully compelling (.....) Mitchell's pyrotechnics are never less than interesting, but they are often less than satisfying" - The New Yorker

  • "Although Eiji is an otherwise engaging character, his dreams will put most readers to sleep. (...) Mitchell's problem is a lack of control. (...) (T)he dreams dominating this fitfully brilliant book are a nightmare to read." - Daniel Zalewski, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The most engaging character of number9dream is the city itself, a zirconium-gothic Weberian nightmare, a metal-and-glass superbeast of energy and automation. (...) number9dream is a sprawling, wanton affair. For all its attractions, the book suffers from an imaginative hyper-fecundity. What with the alternative realities, the narrative byways and cul-de-sacs, there is just too much information coming at you." - Robert MacFarlane, The Observer

  • "As much as Number9Dream is a traditional quest and coming-of-age novel, it's also an examination of consciousness, of how we navigate the tenuous borders that separate fact and fantasy, dreams and waking life, the virtual and the authentic. (...) (T)he novel dips and drags in places, and the final paragraph hits a dissonant note (...) With his kaleidoscope eyes affixed to the pulse of modern Japan, Mitchell writes like a dream, the kind you don't want to end." - Andrew Roe, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Nothing could be less ethereal, lucid or zen-like than the overwrought and overwritten prose on display here. (...) There is no selection, no paring away of excess, no attention to the single, telling detail, and the effect of this, over 400 pages, where all these supposedly inter-connected narrative forms and styles are meant to combine into a seamless whole, is to leave the reader numbed and clamouring for less. (...) The centre does not hold." - Robert Edric, The Spectator

  • "Halfway through the novel you care less about Eiji finding his father than you do about finding your own way out of this labyrinthine, multi-genre tale. What it all means is hard to say, but the number nine is a key. (...) Number9dream is not a great deed, but Mitchell is certainly a gifted and unusual writer" - Russell Celyn Jones, The Times

  • "While Number9dream may not have the satisfying of coherence of Ghostwritten, with its nine artfully interwoven parts, it more than compensates with its sheer abundance of ideas, its linguistic invention and its stylistic display. The stories of Eiji and Anju and of Goatwriter and his madcap household may be enjoyed independently, but the book as a whole clearly attests, David Mitchell's considerable gifts and perhaps augurs even greater things to come." - Shomit Dutta, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Imagine a Philip K. Dick tale interpreted by a coked-up Salman Rushdie impersonator. It's show-offy fiction on a bad hair day. (...) Number9Dream is a muddle of missed opportunities and loose ends" - Joy Press, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       David Mitchell's number9dream is set in Japan. It is narrated by Eiji Miyake, a twenty year-old who has just come to the Tokyo and is on a quest to find his father. A bastard, he doesn't even know his father's name. Eiji's family life wasn't a particularly happy one: his mother was and is a wreck and only briefly had a role in raising him, his twin sister Anju was a suicide when they were children.
       Reality and fantasy overlap throughout the book. Eiji has dreams and nightmares, and he imagines other realities. The influence of role-playing video games and manga cartoon magazines is everywhere. And even the reality he faces is often cartoonish and unlikely. "Your imagination has gotten the better of you", someone tells him early on, and it is a recurring problem.
       The father-quest is a complicated undertaking. His father's lawyer and his new wife threaten Eiji, others mislead and use him. There are false trails galore.
       "We all get the nightmares we deserve. No more, no less" someone explains. Eiji's are dramatic enough -- both the real-life nightmares and the sleeping one. He makes friends, finds mysterious clues, gets himself in dangerous situations. It appears his father might be a powerful politician, or perhaps associated with the yakuza, or perhaps a surgeon. Each variation comes with its own problems. And then there's that computer disk with some compromising information that he gets, which people are apparently willing to kill for .....
       Eiji also tries to work out other problems. He hears from his mother again. Remembers his sister. Meets a girl named Ai Imajo.
       Mitchell invents lots of fine episodes, though he does stray a bit far and wide. He mixes fantasy and reality quite well: this annoying device -- is it a dream ? is it real ? -- can easily ruin a book, but Mitchell does a decent job with it. Some of the the book is dreadful -- "Eiji finds it hard to concentrate because his head keeps rolling into the corner so he has to get up and screw it back on" -- but at least he is willing to take risks, indeed to barrel ahead full-steam, come what may. Mitchell steers clear of sounding too portentous and serious (though one suspects that he means the book to be a serious one): number9dream is, in fact, a silly book, but in a good way. One can revel in its enjoyable bits and ignore its larger ambition (where Mitchell fails completely).

       number9dream doesn't just invite comparison to Murakami Haruki's work, it demands it. Mitchell is obviously and openly following in the footsteps of the master. His characters, their concerns, and what happens to them are all Murikamiesque. The quirky occurrences, the strong but lost girls, the ominous forces all about are all pages out of Murakami's books. Everything one might find (and has found) in a Murakami-novel is there: "Goatwriter" tales interspersed in the story, Beatles-songs (and a lot of John Lennon), a few popular-literary titles, and even a diary from World War II.
       Mitchell emulates the man well. number9dream can pass as a decent piece of Murakami-lite. One might wonder: why bother ? why can't Mitchell find his own distinctive voice, or at least a halfway original story and some new characters ? One hopes he has his reasons.

       number9dream is a varied, entertaining, easy read. It is light entertainment, with some clever touches and wild twists. It reads well -- consistently so, unlike Mitchell's far more uneven Ghostwritten (see our review) -- but ultimately it is fairly insubstantial.

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number9dream: Reviews: David Mitchell: Other books by David Mitchell under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author David Mitchell was born in 1969. He currently lives in Ireland.

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© 2002-2011 the complete review

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