number9dream

by Books
Book title: Number9Dream
Author: David Mitchell
Publisher: Sceptre
Publication Date: 2001

David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2001)

Study guide by James Murkett

 

Key Concepts

Reality, identity, alienation, generations, dreams, fate, spirituality, existence

 

Summary

Eiji Miyake has come to Tokyo to find the father he never knew. Having experienced the death of his twin sister and desertion by his mother, Eiji decides to discover his origins. His quest takes him to contemporary Tokyo - a multi-textured, organic urban milieu. He meets a panorama of characters (a piano-playing waitress, a frustrated computer hacker, a pizza-delivering magician and a dream-collecting witch) in the 'real world' plus a collection of 'make-believe' ones in his imagination. Eiji is dragged into an inter-clan gang feud that threatens to end his quest and life. His search for his father's identity - and by extension his own - explores the tension of existence in a traditional yet intensely modern urban setting.

The book varies between periods of logical plot development and invasions into Eiji's dream life. His fantasies revolve around his past, his present and imagined outcomes to future events. This gives the book a disjointed feel as Mitchell's (and Eiji's) imagination is given free reign to sprawl wherever it pleases. Mitchell's descriptive writing style is evocative, richly bringing to life the sensory experience of modern Tokyo. The book is split into nine sections which, in the context of the book, is symbolic. The ninth and final section is blank to allow the reader to finish for himself or herself the story of Eiji Miyake.

 

Background

David Mitchell, a thirty-one-year-old former bookseller, teaches English to technical students in Hiroshima. Having completed a BA in English and American Literature at the University of Kent, he stayed there to take an MA in Comparative Literature. His MA Thesis explored levels of reality in fiction, a theme that is present in the structure of number9dream. The title of the book is taken from a John Lennon track (Lennon is a hero of both Mitchell and Eiji) of the same name. Mitchell describes the song as ' . . . beautiful [and] visionary . . . which coincides with some of the themes in my novel about levels of reality' (The Independent, 24/3/01).

number9dream is David Mitchell's second book and was nominated for the 2001 Booker Prize. His debut offering, Ghostwritten (1999) won the Mail on Sunday / John Llewelyn Rhys prize. He describes the trick of writing a compelling narrative as ' . . . so simple it's often overlooked: invent a character the readers like and make nasty or dangerous things happen to him or her' (BBC News web site, 19/8/01).

 

I D E A S   F O R   D I S C U S S I O N

Study Questions

  1. Do you like this book? Why?
     
  2. Why is the book written as it is? What does this add to the story?
     
  3. What do you think happens in section nine?
     
  4. How is reality presented in the book? What is the role of technology in this?
     
  5. How does Eiji's character develop through the book? Where is his identity?
     
  6. What lessons does Eiji learn through his quest?
     
  7. How is the connection between Eiji and Anju portrayed? How does it evolve??
     
  8. What are the tensions between tradition and technology? Is this your experience?
     
  9. What differences between generations are there in the book?
     
  10. What is said about urban existence? How is the city described?
     
  11. Trace the John Lennon references in the book. What do you think they mean?
     
  12. How is spirituality seen in the book? Are the references positive or negative?
     
  13. What role does fate have in Eiji's story?
     
  14. What does the book say about the act of writing and its contribution to reality?

 

Action Questions

  1. What aspects of the Christian message are particularly relevant to Eiji?
     
  2. ' . . . I like ghost stories, and I'm interested in taking them to bits and putting them together again and in the borderline between objective reality and what is beyond - insanity, New Age hokey pokey flimflam, the supernatural, entities way out of our reality-league' (www.randomhouse.com). From this, how would you help Mitchell to consider the claims of Jesus?
     
  3. 'I wanted to explore the idea that meaning, just like memory, is a function of the mind, and that the act of attaching meaning to something is what one mind does in a different way to another' (The Independent, 24/03/01). Do you agree? How can we defend objective meaning in the face of this?
     
  4. 'There is a growing sense, that the younger generation has no morality, and that older Japanese people can't begin to understand younger Japanese people even as members of the same nation' (The Independent, 24/03/01). Is there a similar feeling in the UK? How is this seen? How does the Christian message join diverse people together?