number9dream by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Opening Sentence: It is a simple matter
David Mitchell where have you been my whole life? To think that I might never have come across a writer so brilliant if I hadn’t stumbled on to him by accident. This book was bought for me as a present from a 2nd hand book stall in Karachi by one of my relatives. I will forever be grateful to that man for introducing me to this gem.
This book completely blew me away. I was hooked from the first few pages, despite not being sure throughout the whole book how much of this was actually happening. I would be hard pressed to describe exactly what this book is about. It is SUPPOSED to be about a 19 year old kid, Eiji Miyake, in Tokyo trying to find his father, but very little of what happens in this story is related to that original purpose.
Number9Dream is a brilliant showcase of Mitchell’s literary talents. In fact most of the time it feels like he is just showing off with his elaborate prose and ambitious style of writing. So much so that the plot matters only slightly and might sometimes just be in the way. All the way to the end I wasn’t sure what kind of ride I have been taken on but I can say I don’t feel the least bit cheated. This book by all accounts gives credence to the theory that the journey matters more than the destination. I for one can say I am now an emotionally invested member of the David Mitchell fan club.
Mitchell manages to make witty commentary on a smattering of subjects while still maintaining the tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic style of narration that holds the tone of the book. From satires on god and religion to statements on music and the working class, the book is strongly opinionated while still being hilarious.
Darkly comical references to religion and god made appearances in sub-stories within the story, which were placed so ingeniously that they held just as much interest as the original story line did. In one such instance god is a man in a mental institution who claims he is now passing time there after creating a universe which is a mere 9 days old.
‘So you created our universe?’
‘Quite. Nine days ago.’
Polonski weighs this up. ‘A considerable body of evidence suggests that the universe is somewhat older than nine days.’
‘ I know. I created the evidence too.’
Now how can you argue with that? And if you claim to be skeptical, that’s okay because he made you that way too. Along with which follows an explanation of how wars in the name of religion are only good as a means of amusement for a bored god taking pleasure in the wild imaginations of human beings.
Another ideology that appeared in a side story of Goatwriter, a more than fascinating side protagonist who is a writer created by a writer in this story (stay with me here), stated that god, one of the many, claims he was forced into the profession because it “ran in the family” but got stuck in the wars and peacekeeping branch due to graduating third class:
“Daddy tired to pull strings, but heaven, ma’am’ – God lowered his voice -‘is another word for nepotism.”
Which explains the scarceness of divine intervention in the state of war
“Time was, we had a divine veto on wars, but our executive powers got whittled away, bit by bit, and now nobody even bothers consulting us.”
David Mitchell makes more sense about matters of God than any fanatic has in a long time.
Similar delightful nuggets can be found scattered throughout the book which makes it a feast for the intellect. The protagonist’s resentful opinion of the working class, which he refers to throughout as “drones”in the book is one such example :
“Now I understand what fuels dronehood. This: you work or you drown. Tokyo turns you into a bank account balance with a carcass in tow. The size of this single number dictates where the carcass may live, what it drives, how it dresses, who it sucks up to, who it may date and marry, whether it cleans itself in a gutter or a jacuzzi.”
Intelligently cynical insight for a 19 year old. But what I liked more was that this in no way took away from his naivete as a 19 year old, which in my opinion is important in order to make a story more plausible. I have to admit I find pessimistic protagonists more likable and mature than others, which is probably one of the reasons I am not necessarily a ‘fan’ of young adult fiction. I found myself feeling agreeing with Eiji even on matters which I have no knowledge of. One such instance was when a John Lennon song played in a cafe:
“A muzak version of ‘Imagine’ comes on and John Lennon wakes up in his tomb, appalled. It is vile beyond belief. Even the traitors who recorded this horror hated it.”
I am highly envious of imagination with such an acute sense of sarcasm translated by Mitchell through the protagonist.
An interesting feature of the book that caught my eye was the references to times and the look of the skies. I couldn’t help marking them down:
“As the first red light of day picks the lock of dawn,..”
“My body blazes as the sun cracks the day wide open.”
“A single night is stuffed with minutes, but they leak out, one by one.”
“Moonlight bright as a UFO abduction..”
“Fujifilm smuggled three o’clock over the border without me noticing.”
“Dawn sketches outlines and colors them in”
“The full moon is a thirty watt bulb no more than several inches away.”
“The naked eyeball of the sun stared unblinkingly from a sky pinkish with dry heat.”
“A dirty rag of bleached sky – the morning forgets it was raining, as suddenly as a child forgetting a sulk she planned to last years.”
“The bored horizon yawns.”
With morning that “plugs itself in” or “comes in for landing”, and a Tuesday that “gasps it’s last”, not to mention the multitude of interesting things the sky keeps doing, I was endlessly fascinated by how many ways the writer will portray time next. It was just one of the many interesting aspects in a book loaded with many.
Overall it was one of the best reads I have had in a long time and if you can keep up with the mind of David Mitchell I would definitely recommend not missing out on this beautiful piece of his work.
1.”I would shoot her but I left my Walther PK in my last fantasy.” (pg.27)
2. “In the event of fire, the audience is kindly requested to blacken quietly.” (pg. 27)
3. “All these people like my mother paying counselors and clinics to reattach them to reality: all these like me paying Sony and Saga to reattach us to unreality.” (pg. 102)
4. “Goatwriter picked up the pen and began to write, slowly at first, as the words spattered singly, but soon sentences flowed, filled and overspilled.”(pg. 206)
5. “The world is an ordered flowchart of subplots, after all.” (pg. 259)
6. “It is your grandfather’s hope that his grandson – you – have principles loftier than those espoused in the latest pop hit.” (pg. 274)
7. “courage is the highest quality for a soldier, but technology is a fine substitute.” (pg. 304)
8. “If binoculars were powerful enough to bring the 1940s into focus, we could wave at one another.” (pg. 400)
9. “A book you read is not the same book it was before you read it. ” (pg. 413)
1. “My reflection plays the staring game. It wins and I look away first.” (pg.24)
2. “Where does one find pens? At the ends of sentences. Where does one find the ends of sentences? At the ends of lines.” (pg. 238)
5. “The soldiers? They never fight each other! They might get hurt! They have a gentleman’s agreement – never fire at a uniform. The purpose of war is to kill as many civilians as possible.” (pg. 226)
6. “I emerge into a library/ study with the highest book population density I have ever come across. Book walls, book towers, book avenues, book side streets. Bool spillages, book rubble. Paperback books, hardback books, atlases, manuals, almanacs. Nine Lifetimes of book.s Enough books to build an igloo to hide in. The room is sentient with books. Mirrors double and cube the book. A Great Wall of China quantity of books. Enough books to make me wonder if I am a book too.” (pg.210)
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