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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
Number9dream fails to rouse
Number9dream
Number9dream is set mainly in the streets of Tokyo
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

Number9dream is the old masquerading as the new but no-one is fooled for a moment.

David Mitchell packages his old-fashioned tale of a son's search for his father amid the ultra-contemporary urban landscape of Tokyo.

Eiji Miyake is a 20-year-old with bad skin and a bad attitude, who decides to track down the father he never knew, whom he believes is a powerful figure living in Tokyo.

The novel begins like a Manga comic strip with over-the-top, cartoon violence and high-tech weaponry and the pace of a William Gibson science fiction novel.

But the opening - depicted with glorious style - and several to follow are simply illusions, the day dreams of young Miyake.

Various narratives

From the outset Mitchell teases with long passages which are mere fantasies and leaves the reader permanently unsettled, not knowing if what he or she is reading is fact or fiction.

The novel weaves various narratives - dreams and diaries - and gives the action a grounding in the back streets of Tokyo and in the underworld of Japan's criminal element.

Some of the various narratives, such as the journal of a Japanese World War II torpedo pilot - are successful, while others, a collection of surreal short stories, are not.

They distract from the thrust of the novel, failing to inform the central narrative, and are not interesting enough in themselves to stand alone.

Japan has long been the country of choice for authors and film-makers keen to depict a dystopian world where the cultures of consumerism and tradition clash and the individual fights to assert his or her difference amidst a shifting landscape.

Journey

The problem for Mitchell is that the land of the rising sun has become a staid shorthand metaphor for the postmodern world and number9dream finds little original or strartling to say about the country or indeed the people who inhabit it.

The protagonist is - intentionally or not - little more than a video game figure and his journey leaves one cold.

Mitchell wants number9dream to appear contemporary but, in truth, it seems dated, rooted in the 1980s; the decade of Blade Runner and when the word postmodern was fashionably hip in the halls of university campuses and the internet was a secret shared only by those in the know.

The differing strands at narrative are a poor attempt at a kind chic intertextuality and there is a tired feel about the plot, involving Japanese gangsters and the international trade of illegal body parts.

Coincidence is a useful plot device for any writer but Mitchell is over-reliant on it and the book descends into the meandering plot of a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, he of Con Air and Pearl Harbor fame.

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