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Once you have woken up, what marks the difference between dreams and nightmares?

Regular listeners to this page will, hopefully, remember how I recently read another book by David Mitchell. On the strength of this I dove into Number 9 Dream headfirst, with fervent enthusiasm. Sadly, the promise of a glittering oasis into which I had jumped; fathoms deep, turned out to be nothing more than a muddy puddle.

Eiji Miyake is close to his twentieth birthday, but far away from home. He has left his little village behind and headed to the chaos of Tokyo in search of his biological father and, at the outset, this seems to have promise of being a good story. The book’s opening few chapters float between Eiji’s real life experiences and his overactive, adolescent day dreams; with little guidance to the reader as to which side of reality Eiji is currently in. This is a good idea and I quite liked the slightly uncomfortable feelings I had whilst trying to figure out if he was being eaten alive by a crocodile in downtown Tokyo or not, but after the first few chapters this device stops. That makes it even more uncomfortable, but not in a good way. It feels a little bit like the book should be in several chunks, none of which relate to each other apart from the characters names.

At some point in Number 9 Dream Eiji, whilst in hiding from the Yakuza tenuously connects with a writer. OK, we think, we’ve not met the writer but we know she exists. The chapters then alternate between Eiji and his troubles with the underworld and a, excuse my French, bloody awful story about a goat that writes books, written by this elusive writer that Eiji hasn’t met, but knows about, even though he’s living in her house. This crazy goat nonsense is OK for the first chapter. The goat’s world feels Victorian, full of steam powered contraptions and a cockney chicken, but it goes on and on. And on. It’s horrible. It’s a massive portion of the book, full of complete and painful chapters that I eventually ignored completely. I couldn’t force myself to read the stupid goat chapters any more.

What also confuses me in Number 9 Dream is why the Yakuza overlords, in their eternal struggle for power tolerate Eiji, even for just a second. I don’t profess to know much about the inner workings of the Japanese Mafia but I can’t see them batting an eyelid at killing a 20 year old lost property attendant at the slightest possibility that he may, at some point in the future, pose a threat to them. Take him along on a killing spree around Tokyo in an imported luxury car, have him witness the change of ultimate power within the underworld, explain to him the intricate workings of the new overlords plan for total domination, and then let him live and walk away scott free; I don’t think so.

There’s a love story, that doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s Eiji’s struggle with guilt from the death of his twin sister many years ago, that doesn’t manifest itself as anything more troubling than thinking he looks like her from time to time. There’s Eiji’s boss that takes a hostage with a cross bow and then commits suicide for no apparent reason and no bearing to the story. And then there is the whole book trying to find his father amongst how-ever-many million people living in Tokyo these days, only to eventually find him, but not announce who he is and not really care that he’s met him. I guess it’s supposed to show how family is who you make it and not just a title or label imposed on someone just by the animalistic process of reproduction but that’s not how I felt. I’ve just sat through 400 pages of this, GOD DAMN IT, and you just walk out! What was the point in the last few days of my life. I could have screamed.

In short, don’t bother with this book. It is disjointed, awkward and unnecessary. And then there’s that infernal goat section. It has promise and it could have been so, so much better but I finished the book a little frustrated and more than a little upset that my initial enthusiasm for the writer and the promise of an emotional and spellbinding tale fell flat, far foul of the standard I had hoped for.

* O O O O 1 out of 5. It would have been 2 * if it weren’t for the goat section.

Number 9 Dream, written by David Mitchell is published by Sceptre and is out now in paperback.

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