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David Mitchell: number9dream

The title comes from the John Lennon song. Eiji Miyake, the hero/narrator of this novel, is a big John Lennon fan. The other Lennon song Eiji seems to like is Norwegian Wood which is, of course, not just a tribute to Lennon but also to Haruki Murakami, to whom this book owes a great deal. Indeed, if you read this book without knowing who wrote it, you may well be tempted to think that, the British slang apart, it was written by Murakami.

Like Murakami, there is the Japanese outsider hero – Eiji Miyake, who has to deal with a variety of gangster types, strange things happen to him as he sets out on his quest, in this case to find his father, and there is, of course, a girl smarter than him. Only the ending is not Murakamiesque. Eiji Miyake is from the remote island of Yakushima. His mother, an alcoholic who has abandoned her children, was impregnated by a powerful man, who has completely disowned his children and their mother. The children – Eiji and his twin sister Anju – had been brought up by their grandmother. They do not know the identity of their father nor the whereabouts of their mother. They had never left the island till Eiji went to play in a soccer match on a neighbouring island (against his sister’s wishes) which, thanks to his heroics and his request to a local god, the team surprisingly won. Sadly the god demanded his price and when Eiji returned home, he found that his sister had drowned. Now, just about twenty-one, he sets off to find his father. The start of the novel finds him in Tokyo at the beginning of the quest, with the name of a lawyer who knew his father.

The novel is about his quest which is sort of successful, after many adventures and misadventures. But it is more about a naïve young man, surviving in Tokyo with the help of a motley assortment of characters. He gets involved in the Japanese criminal underworld of the Yakuza and sees two of three main Yakuza chiefs die nasty deaths. He himself is almost killed on more than one occasion. He falls in love with a diabetic musician, works in a station lost property office, where his boss kills himself by throwing himself off a high building when he is demoted, and also works in a hot as hell all night pizzeria. He is protected by his landlord who also owns a video store, the landlord’s mother, his boss at the lost property office and a woman detective, herself the victim of the Yakuza. He thinks of Anju and John Lennon, adopts a cat, has a friend who hacks into the Holy Grail of the Pentagon computer system and reunites with his mother.

It is a story well told, even if it is almost pure Murakami. The ending is inconclusive but unexpected. The messages are that it is the quest, not the result of the quest that counts and that, ultimately, it is people, and only people, that matter. If you like Murakami (with a slight twist) – and why wouldn’t you? – you will enjoy this.

Publishing history

First published 2001 by Sceptre