|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||418 pp (paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-340-73976-2 (paperback)|
|Followed by||Cloud Atlas|
number9dream is the second novel by English author David Mitchell. Set in Japan, it narrates the search of 19-year-old Eiji Miyake for his father, whom he has never met. Told in the first person by Eiji, it is a coming of age/perception story that breaks convention by juxtaposing Eiji Miyake’s actual journey toward identity and understanding with his imaginative journey.
Summary of the plot
The novel is divided into 9 chapters.
Eiji waits inside a café in front of the Panopticon building in Tokyo. Akiko Kato, his father's lawyer, works in the building. Eiji plans to meet her and find out who his father is. The chapter alternates between descriptions of Eiji waiting in the café and his fantasies about his meeting with Akiko Kato: first he imagines storming the building with weapons and stealing his file; then that a huge flood would submerge Tokyo and drown him; then that he follows Akiko Kato into a movie theater where she meets with his father while a surrealistic film is shown on the screen. In the bar, he observes the customers and waitresses: he is attracted by a waitress with a beautiful neck and he shares his cigarettes with an old man resembling Lao Tsu who passes his time playing videogames. However, Eiji never finds the courage to meet with Akiko Kato.
Two: Lost Property
This chapter consists of three interleaving narrations.
Eiji finds a job at the lost property office of a subway station. His boss, Mr Aoyama, is worried that a restructuring could cost him a job; he becomes paranoid, accuses Eiji of conspiring against him, kidnaps a railway manager and finally kills himself.
In parallel, Eiji remembers his youth on the island of Yakushima, where he lived with his twin sister Anju after their mother abandoned them. One day Eiji is going to the mainland to play a soccer game. Before leaving he prays the thunder god to make him win, promising anything in exchange. Eiji's team wins the match thanks to him, but when he comes back to the island Anju has disappeared. She tried to swim to the whalestone, a rock in the middle of the sea, and drowned. Eiji takes revenge on the thunder god by sawing off the head of his statue.
While in Tokyo, Eiji receives two letters. The first is from Akiko Kato, deterring him from seeking his father. The second is from his mother, Mariko Miyake, revealing details of his and Anju's birth and infancy. Their mother had a rich married lover. When she got pregnant, he abandoned her. Mariko was an alcoholic and was unsuited to raising children, at one point deciding to throw Eiji off the balcony of her apartment. Before she could do so, he fell down the stairs. After Eiji's injury, she decided to bring the children to her native island and give them to her own mother to raise. When present-day Eiji calls the hospital from which the letter was written, he is told she left that morning.
Three: Video Games
While playing in a video game arcade, Eiji is befriended by Yuzu Daimon, a rich final-year law student. Daimon is waiting for a girl that doesn't show up. They pick up a couple of girls and Daimon takes them to an exclusive bar where he behaves very rudely to the waitress, named Miriam. Then Daimon takes Eiji and the girls to a love hotel where they drink, take drugs, and have sex. The next morning Eiji wakes up to find that he has been left there with the bill to pay. He escapes through the kitchen of an adjoining hotel. He finds himself near the bar in front of Panopticon where he was at the beginning of the novel. He helps the waitress with the beautiful neck to get rid of a bad customer and he makes friends with her, learning her name, Ai Imajo.
Later he meets Miriam in a park. She mentions something about his father and leaves, dropping a library book. Eiji, with the help of a hacker friend called Suga, traces her and finds her address. He goes there and asks about his father, but he finds out that Miriam thought that he was Daimon's brother and so she was talking about Daimon's father.
Four: Reclaimed Land
Eiji is kidnapped by a yakuza gang. Daimon has been kidnapped as well. Eiji finds out from him that there is a yakuza war going on: The old boss, Konosuke Tsuru has disappeared and his two subordinates, Jun Nagasaki and Ryutaro Morino are struggling to replace him. Nagasaki seems to have the upper hand and Morino seems to be washed up. It is Morino who had Eiji and Daimon kidnapped, because they have been disrespectful to Miriam, whom he is in love with. Morino threatens Eiji but doesn't harm him, and he reveals to him that he knows who his father is, but he won't tell him. He also had his men take a litre of blood from Daimon's body as punishment and warning; then he sends them away. Eiji puts Daimon on a taxi to his apartment and goes back to find the documents about his father. He only finds a picture of his father with Akiko Kato and a message to meet with Morino immediately at a slot machine arcade. Morino forces him to take a blood oath of submission to him for the night in exchange for information about his father. He takes him through a murderous spree that ends in a confrontation with Nagasaki near an unfinished bridge to a new airport terminal that is being built on land reclaimed from the sea. Nagasaki's men outnumber Morino's, but he has a secret weapon, an explosive that has been planted on them. He blows them all up and orders Suhbataar, his Mongolian hitman, to kill Eiji. But Suhbataar is working for the old boss, Tsuru, who is still alive: he blows up Morino's men and lets Eiji go.
Five: Study of Tales
Eiji wakes up in an unknown house. He receives a visit from Buntaro, his landlord, and discovers that he is the son of Mrs. Sasaki, Eiji's boss at work. He rescued Eiji after the events on the bridge. The house belongs to Mrs. Sasaki's sister, a deaf writer of fantastic tales, who is momentarily in Germany.
The narration alternates between Eiji's stay at the house and a surrealistic tale written by Mrs. Sasaki's sister. The tale's main characters are three anthropomorphic animals: Goatwriter, a literate goat who collects and writes tales and like Mitchell has a stammer; Mrs. Comb, his servant and cook, a hen; and Pithecanthropus, his handyman, a primitive hominid. They live in a wasteland devastated by war and inhabit a coach that travels around of its own will. After various adventures, they reach a pool at the foot of a backward flowing waterfall, a metaphor for death. All three jump in the pool.
Buntaro is going on holiday with his pregnant wife and asks Eiji to mind his video rental shop while he is away. Eiji makes contact with Kozue Yamaya, the woman detective who investigated his father for Morino. He asks her to give him the information, but she disappears before answering. Later he is contacted by his grandfather Takara Tsukiyama who asks to meet him. He also gets back in contact with Ai Imajo.
Six: Kai Ten
The grandfather doesn't come to the meeting for health reasons. Instead he sends an old friend, Admiral Raizo, who explains to Eiji that his father is a discredited son. He gives Eiji a journal that Mr. Tsukiyama's brother Subaru kept at the end of World War II.
The chapter alternates between entries from the journal and the events at the video shop. Subaru Tsukiyama was a pilot of kaiten, a torpedo modified with a cockpit, used towards the end of the war for suicide missions against American ships. The journal describes the life of the pilots from training to the end of their mission. But at the fatal moment Subaru's kaiten doesn't explode, it sinks to the sea bottom and he has the time to write his last journal entries before dying.
Eiji passes the days tending the video shop. In the evening he phones Ai and they talk about the meaning of life. She is a pianist and dreams of going to a music school in Paris, but her parents won't let her go. One evening, Suga shows up completely drunk and tells Eiji about a tragic event of his past when he involuntarily caused the death of a child. When Eiji goes to the appointment with his grandfather, his step mother and sister are there instead. Grandfather has died. They tell him that the man claiming to be Admiral Raizo was actually Mr. Tsukiyama himself. They ask him to leave their family in peace and he accepts: He doesn't want to meet his father anymore.
Eiji finds a job as a cook in a pizza kitchen; his boss is Ai's roommate.
One day he receives a package from Kozue Yamaya: she reveals that, when she was a young mother, she and her baby were kidnapped by Yakuza as payment for her husband's debts and she was forced to prostitute herself. Her child, also named Eiji, was killed and his organs sold illegally. She managed to escape, became a private eye and dedicated her life to investigating the gang that killed her child. She is presumed dead but sent discs of information on the Yakuza organ-harvesting ring to several people she trusts, including Eiji.
When Suga is discovered trying to break into the Pentagon's computers, the secret service offers him a job working for them in Saratoga, Texas. Before leaving for America he gives Eiji a virus that can spread any kind of information through email.
Eiji finds a call on his answering machine from someone claiming to be his father. When he goes to the appointment, he finds that he has been tricked by Yakuza in order to collect on unpaid debts left by Morino. He and three other men are forced to play a deadly game of cards for the enjoyment of Tsuru. They are saved by Tsuru's death by a stroke and fatal burn from a grill.
On his last shift at work, Eiji gets an order from a lawyer working in Panopticon. He realizes that the lawyer is his father, but when he goes to meet him he discovers that he is a selfish and vulgar man and prefers not to reveal his identity. Eiji later uses Suga's virus to send Yamaya's information disc to thousands of e-mail accounts across Japan, including law enforcement.
Eight: The language of mountains is rain
Eiji travels to Miyazaki to meet his mother. He travels on board trucks. The drivers tell him their stories and he dreams. When he gets to the clinic where his mother is recovering, they talk and find some understanding.
Afterwards, Eiji travels back to Kagoshima. A typhoon breaks out and he is forced to shelter in a garden hut. The next morning he takes the ferry to Yakushima and goes to visit his grandmother's house, but she is not home. The radio is on and broadcasting news of a major earthquake in Tokyo. He tries to phone Ai, but cannot get a line. Then he decides to run back.
The last chapter is empty.
number9dream is structurally broken down into eight full-length chapters, as well as a final chapter ‘nine’ that is untitled and unwritten. Eiji narrates all of these chapters, and yet each chapter is still unique because the alternate reality that Eiji experiences changes in each one.
The first eight chapters are titled as follows: PanOpticon, Lost Property, Video Games, Reclaimed Land, Study of Tales, Kai Ten, Cards, and The Language of Mountains is Rain. The ninth chapter is blank because according to Eiji’s dream John Lennon, “the ninth dream begins after every ending” (398).
In PanOpticon, the alternate reality that Eiji experiences is his fantasy of breaking tight security restraints at PanOpticon to find his father. In Lost Property, Eiji is sidetracked from his search because of his job at Lost Property. This is also the chapter where he first discusses memories of Anju, his ‘lost’ sister. And so on.
This all-encompassing novel even includes the entire collection of children’s short stories that Eiji reads in Study of Tales, and the journal that Eiji reads in Kai Ten, revealing Mitchell’s skill and creativity in developing and combining different types of narrative. As well as adding to the novel’s creativity and entertainment, this completeness of detail also adds a greater dimension to Eiji’s character so that we are able to perceive Eiji’s experiences with him as we wonder when and why he resorts to alternative realities instead of facing his own.
The escapism that Eiji uses throughout the novel in his fantasies and alternate realities lead us to empathize with his character, especially during his memories of his twin sister, Anju when his true journey, toward coping with her death, is revealed. What Mitchell cumulatively achieves through Eiji’s multi-level experience is a sense of the importance of psychological reality: it is only through all of Eiji’s experiences, both real and imagined, that he comes to terms with the history of his parents and the death of Anju and is ready to move on with his life, and theoretically, reach the number nine dream once that is accomplished.
Eiji’s pain over the loss of Anju and his subsequent need for escapism is explained when he says, “after Anju I dreamed of drowning several times a week, right up until I got my guitar” (167). What is implied then, is that music helped him cope with losing Anju at first - then fantasies, video games, books, and cards – all of his alternate realities developed from his initial feeling of loss when Anju died. Thus his quest to reconcile this loss is the underlying reason for Eiji's journey. Since he is not aware of this, Mitchell is further suggesting that the coping process is also something we are not consciously aware of – another alternative reality.
Throughout the novel, Eiji is on a mission to find his father, and yet when he finds him he is disappointed. He says, “I feel sad that I found what I searched for, but no longer want what I found” (375). Actually, the search was more important than the outcome because it yielded results that were different and more significant than what he expected to find when he began. In the process of the search, Eiji finally faces Anju’s death, and develops his own identity.
Eiji’s growth and coming to terms with his past is marked in the eighth chapter, The Language of Mountains is Rain, when he finally perceives himself as a part of the conscious world. Unlike his previous idea that “that was who I really was – a dream of the Real Eiji Miyake,” (408) Eiji says in a moment of devastation, “I would give anything to be dreaming right now” (418), revealing a change from the escapist he was throughout the novel.
- Excerpt of chapter 1 in The Guardian
- Guardian review by Stephen Poole
- Observer review by Robert MacFarlane
- The Complete Review profile
- Fantastic Fiction profile
- Hackwriters review
- Review: The San Francisco Chronicle