10. ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell

I wanted to share this wonderful dream I recently had. It’s the one where I read David Mitchell’s novel number9dream and found myself lost within its labyrinthine structure. The good news is that I managed to escape, although the work continues to leave an imprint on my mind. The truth is the experience wasn’t a dream at all, but a novel I’ve spent the last few weeks absorbing slowly and trying to decide if I actually loved it. The first time I read David Mitchell (it was Cloud Atlas), it blew my mind. Immediately, I was convinced that he was one of the greatest writers within the past century. Since then I’ve read Ghostwritten, The Bone Clocksand for the second time his horror novel Slade House. Although Mitchell has become a constant favorite, I’m still unsure regarding my feelings regarding this latest read.

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The title of this novel comes from a John Lennon song, much the way Norwegian Wood, the title of Haruki Murakami’s novel, came from an old Beatles song. A novel that takes its influence from two of my heroes has the makings of a beautiful masterpiece. This book is Mitchell’s second release following the world-spanning and multiple protagonist work Ghostwritten. At first glance, number9dream appears to be more of a mainstream novel as the action follows one singular character. Eiji Miyake is a young man who has arrived in Tokyo searching for the father he never knew. While the absent father story line is a typical motif in a quest novel, the work quickly takes on multiple meanings under the skilled hands of its author. Eiji becomes involved in several different narratives, such as falling in love with a pianist who possesses “the perfect neck” as well as getting involved in a gang war while holding down a series of low-level jobs to support himself. I question if Mitchell’s mind often works at the same pace as his novels as the poor man must be breathless all the time.

If there is one characteristic that defines a David Mitchell novel, the word “genre-bending” comes to mind. Alternating the styles of detective story, action movie, cyberpunk thriller, and romance, this is a work that refuses to stay put for any length of time. I honestly believe that Mitchell could write a straight novel in any style, and perhaps it’s his strict refusal to adhere to just one style that makes his novels so endearing to the reading public. Mitchell makes this story a tribute to the works of Murakami, such as large sections of the novel which showcase Eiji’s dreams or fantasies. His interactions with an assorted cast of oddballs and misfits are variations of elements that would be right at home in a Murakami novel. Mitchell leans heavily on the bizarre, Kafkaesque developments that leave you questioning which parts are reality and which are fantasy. I suppose life can be like that as well.

Like with many heroes, Eiji is a spiritual orphan as his father abandoned his mother, and his alcoholic mother in turn abandoned Eiji and his twin sister, Anju, many years ago. Beneath the quest of finding his absent father, we learn of a tragedy that runs very deep. Just when our hero believes he has found answers, he is quickly thrust down another rabbit hole. Some of these adventures are simply fantasies as Eiji has a rather active imagination. Others, such as the horrific scenes involving two warring gangs are straight out of a work by Tarantino. Interspersed with the violent and cinematic scenes are glimpses of Eiji’s day-to-day existence in Tokyo, where he lives in a small room above a video store, and flashbacks of his childhood in the Japanese countryside, where he and his twin sister grew up.

“maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it”

Despite alternating sections which move at a variety of paces, this novel is a highly philosophical piece on the theme that the meaning of life lies in the adventure itself rather than the goal. Eiji soon finds the initial journey of finding his father lost beneath the all the other quests he endures. This search for meaning is not limited to its title character. Eiji’s friend Suga wants to hack his way into the Pentagon’s computer; the young woman named Ai, who becomes the object of Eiji’s affection, wants to move to Paris to study music; and his landlord Buntaro simply wants to be a good father as his wife is pregnant for the first time. One of the themes that is the focus of this novel is that in life we often have to redefine our dreams, our goals. As we get older, we change and so what becomes meaningful also changes.

I’m a firm believer that some novels cannot be fully appreciated the first time they are read, and I highly suspect that number9dream is one of those works. Similar to taking on a new endeavor or walking down an unfamiliar path for the first time, you often become overwhelmed by the experience itself. The lingering after effects are what persuades you to pick up the work a second time. I have a strong suspicion I will be rereading all of Mitchell’s novels once I get them all finished for the first time.

“A book you finish reading is not the same book it was before you read it.”

 

Read as my fourth book for the TBR Challenge.

1. ‘Slade House’ by David Mitchell

Time for my first review of 2019! Not only did I choose a fast read, but it is also a reread of a book I really loved. I debated on whether or not I should write a whole new review of David Mitchell’s horror novel Slade House. However, reading its predecessor The Bone Clocks altered my experience of this one in such a way that I deemed it worthy of its own post. For the curious, feel free to check out my original review from 2017.

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The story begins in 1979 when a young boy named Nathan and his mother are invited to the home of Lady Norah Grayer. Something feels off from the beginning, as Slade House can only be entered through a mysterious door along an alleyway. Nathan and his mother meet Lady Grayer and her mysterious son Jonah, and the two boys spend the afternoon playing in the garden. The ideal day suddenly turns bizarre as Nathan begins having visions of strange people and other occurrences such as a painting of himself at the top of a grand staircase. The events that occur following this revelation are truly nightmarish.

Slade House is written in five chapters, each set 9 years after the previous one. We soon learn that the Grayers are not what they appear to be and harbor some rather terrifying secrets. Each person who enters the house experiences a completely different scenario with one commonality: never coming out again. I have to give a lot of praise for David Mitchell as a virtuoso when it comes to writing different styles of fiction. From his success at penning family drama to science fiction, I truly believe he can write anything. For this novel, Mitchell has provided us with a work of pure horror as I was literally scared during some of the scenes in this book. With each character, I felt the helplessness of that particular situation. Mitchell manages to give this book an off-kilter feeling as you keep second-guessing on whether the events happening are truly happening. I love fiction that plays with your mind the way this one does.

This novel isn’t so much a sequel to The Bone Clocks but more an extension of that universe. For those that were underwhelmed by that effort, this one is much better as it manages to tell a concise yet frightening story. While I enjoyed this one two years ago on the first read, I loved it even more with the knowledge I have from The Bone Clocks. The reality is that all of Mitchell’s novels are tied to the same universe, and the fun of reading one of his works is spotting the little references to past books.

Although I loved each section, my favorite was the one following Sally Timms in 1997. I loved how Mitchell portrayed this teenage girl’s insecurities. He really can capture teen angst as well as budding romance. Over the years, Mitchell has written in a variety of characters, and I’m always impressed with how well he makes each sound different from the one before.

Overall this is a great book. While frightening and perplexing, it is also a breeze to get through in no time at all. I am highly motivated to read (as well as reread) all of David Mitchell’s novels as he has risen the ranks to one of the finest modern authors working today.

“People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

 

53. ‘The Bone Clocks’ by David Mitchell

Reviewing a novel by David Mitchell is always a monumental task due to the fact that his works are monumental feats in themselves. When you read a Mitchell novel, you are reading multiple stories that often touch on multiple dramas stretching from the past into the distant future. Yet Mitchell, being a master craftsman, connects these various strands together into a beautiful and well-woven tapestry. The reading of one of his epic works is an event that will stay with you long after you close the book. These words perfectly describe my reading experience of Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, a book that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. It would take an artist of lesser caliber multiple works to achieve what Mitchell has managed in just one novel.

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Admittedly, my expectations were quite high as Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite books of all time. Thankfully, this one didn’t disappoint. Sharing a similar style, The Bone Clocks is divided into six individual novellas that work to tell one central story. Although each section focuses on a different narrator, the character of Holly Sykes is the core of this novel. We first meet Holly as a teenager, and each section advances forward every few years until we see Holly as an old woman. Spanning from the years 1984 until 2043, we learn that Holly has unknowingly been the centerpiece of a mysterious war between two opposing groups of immortals. The Horologists are a benevolent group that reincarnate after a body has passed on, while the Anchorites are a faction that derive their long life from draining the souls of others who possess psychic gifts. Both groups possess extraordinary abilities, but their story isn’t the core of this novel. Throughout the majority of the book, we receive clues as to what is happening but are not provided answers until nearly the end. The real heart of The Bone Clocks is Holly as well as the people she encounters throughout her life. While Mitchell has written a fantasy of epic proportions with huge life-altering stakes at play, most of the war between these immortals occurs off scene. Keeping this struggle on the fringes of the novel allows Mitchell to do what he does best, creating believable moments in human lives.

The greatest strength of this books lies in the characters themselves. Writing as several different characters in the first-person is risky as they could all end up sounding alike. In this case, Mitchell is able to create realistic and different narrative voices. In particular, I love how much Holly has changed from her time as a clueless runaway teenager to the learned woman she becomes. Throughout the novel, we not only hear Holly’s voice but also how others see her. Not all the characters are likable. In fact, some are downright terrible people. Mitchell’s strong writing keeps us entertained enough to stay with these disreputable characters who are connected through the central character of Holly Sykes. Whether it’s a despicable cad who falls in love with her, a war reporter who is torn between duty and family, or an aging author who harbors a deep jealousy, we easily become just as interested in their personal struggles as we do the grander fantasy story.

Through beautiful language, Mitchell does a fantastic job of capturing these characters and their various opinions, as well as raising issues that can resonate with the reader. I completely fell in love with this speech from Holly early in the novel, talking to a friend about Heaven:

“What if … what if Heaven is real, but only in moments? Like a glass of water on a hot day when you’re dying of thirst, or when someone’s nice to you for no reason, or …’ Mam’s pancakes with Toblerone sauce; Dad dashing up from the bar just to tell me, ‘Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite’; or Jacko and Sharon singing ‘For She’s A Squishy Marshmallow’ instead of ‘For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow’ every single birthday and wetting themselves even though it’s not at all funny; and Brendan giving his old record player to me instead of one of his mates. ‘S’pose Heaven’s not like a painting that’s just hanging there for ever, but more like … Like the best song anyone ever wrote, but a song you only catch in snatches, while you’re alive, from passing cars, or … upstairs windows when you’re lost …” 

It is impressive how Mitchell is able to take what appears to be an insignificant moment in one section and show just how important it is in another. He does a nice job foreshadowing just what is going on with Holly and the strange voices and people she encounters at specific points in her life. The suspense continues throughout most of the novel before breaking out with a chapter completely dedicated to the war between the two immortal factions. This creates a dramatic and exciting last third of the novel as all the mysterious events from the previous chapters come together beautifully. Unfortunately, this means there are several pages of exposition that need to be read carefully to grasp it all. I also appreciated the nods to Mitchell’s other novels as they all appear to set in the same universe. Be warned that The Bone Clocks is not a novel you can just breeze through in a couple of days. There are just too many details to remember. If you aren’t paying attention, you will get completely lost within its labyrinth structure.

The greatest compliment I can give in a review is that sometimes a book stays with me long after I finish reading it. The Bone Clocks will truly be one of those books. Mitchell accomplished something truly wondrous by creating a fantasy epic that spans centuries while still keeping the narrative tightly focused on real characters living everyday moments. My biggest regret is that I let this one sit on the shelf for so long. I plan on rereading Slade House again since I think I will appreciate it more now that I’ve read this one. Mitchell has constructed an extraordinary maze of a book that will only yield answers to the diligent reader. The Bone Clocks is truly a worthy successor to the groundbreaking Cloud Atlas. 

“We live on, as long as there are people to live on in.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

 

Summer Book Haul

It’s been a while since I did a book haul post. Since we are slightly past the halfway point of 2018, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the latest goodies I purchased (or received as gifts). Just when I managed to get my collection organized, the dreaded piles of books are slowly returning. Now that I think about it, wouldn’t it be great if there was a TV show solely dedicated to book hoarders? Maybe great isn’t the right word….

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Me when i get a bunch of new books!

Since I’ve been wanting to read more science fiction lately, I’ve been targeting those sections of the bookstores. Near the beginning of June I picked up The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It had gotten several good reviews, and I’m happy to report those reviews were correct in my opinion. During that same week, I also found some science fiction short stories published during the 1950’s. I’m really excited to dip into some old-school sci-fi (yes I’m quite the nerd). The other books are all by authors that are new to me, but the plots all sounded really interesting. I’m excited to read Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a recent recipient of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks is heralded as an epic space opera. Since I love time travel, I also picked up Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. Finally, I grabbed Dark Matter by Blake Crouch that promises to be quite a thriller. Who doesn’t like aliens, parallel worlds, and a little time travel right? Maybe the word “nerd” doesn’t quite cover me.

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Aliens, spaceships, and time travel oh my!

Then, just this week I made quite the lucky discovery at my local thrift store. Ever since reading Hugh Howey’s phenomenal Wool, I’ve been dying to read the other two books in the Silo trilogy. I’ve been hoping I could find these used, and it looks like my patience finally paid off! When I saw them side by side on the shelf, I let out a squeal which may have startled some of the other customers. Don’t judge me!

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Thank you Goodwill. Now I can read and pay my rent at the same time.

Of course my summer book haul isn’t just limited to sci-fi. I’m a multi-genre hoarder people! The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau sounded interesting. It’s all about finding happiness in the process of finding goals. I picked up another novel from one of my favorite authors David Mitchell. Of course, I can’t resist the allure of the short story so I rounded off my haul with collections from Ottessa Moshfegh (someone new to me) and Shirley Jackson (a tried and true friend).

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Which one should I read first?

They say the best books in life are free. I was the lucky winner of one of the quarterly prizes for the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. My prize was a book of my choice, and I picked The Baron in the Trees from Italo Calvino. I really liked this author since reading If on a winter’s night a traveler. As fate would have it, I discovered another Calvino work while on vacation.

My best friend was kind enough to spot me a copy of the latest by Terry Brooks so I could participate in the book signing. With friends like mine, who needs books? Well, actually I do.

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Double Calvino goodness!

Speaking of free books (the best kind), it would be wrong if I didn’t show off this wonderful copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. This lovely copy was given to me by my wife in honor of our anniversary. I thought it a clever twist on the fifth year symbol of wood as the cover has a large tree in addition to books being made of wood. She also got me this awesome wooden bookmark! If you didn’t read my review from two years ago (never too late), you will discover that it was not my favorite of his books. However, I’ve had the urge to do a reread, so my judgement may change. This raises a question in regards to a reread-do I do a completely new review or leave it with the one I’ve already written? No matter what I decide to do, at least I can say I own a copy of every Ishiguro novel. What author should I target next? The mind races.

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This cover rocks!

Between all of these books as well as the ones I need to finish for my reading challenges, it looks like I’m set. I may put instill a temporary book-buying ban for the remainder of the year. Those don’t work well for me. Books are the worst temptresses aren’t they?

Would you recommend any of the books from this post? What books have you purchased recently? Submit a comment and let’s chat it up!

40. ‘Slade House’ by David Mitchell

It’s almost Halloween so I decided to read David Mitchell’s horror novel Slade House. Mitchell has taken the typical haunted house story and transformed it into something new and different. I decided to read this because of this year’s R.I.P. challenge. Slade House was selected as the group read; otherwise, I might have skipped over this one. I’m happy I read it as it is much more than your average chilling read although there are plenty of frights. 

 

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The entrance to Slade House is located at the end of an alley and only opens every nine years for the right person. The book is divided into five chapters, each one told by a different narrator set nine years apart. For each person, Slade House appears as something entirely different from the one before. However, getting out is a completely different matter entirely. The truth is that guests of Slade House never escape.

I was really impressed with how Mitchell can capture so many different types of characters. The dangers of writing a book with several first-person narrators is that they can all start to sound the same. This isn’t a problem with Slade House. As with my two previous Mitchell experiences of Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, I found each chapter to be in a refreshingly different voice. From a young child to a lonely detective to an overweight female teenager with self-esteem issues, Mitchell manages to capture their specific personalities quite well.

My favorite  section was the one following Sally Timms in 1997. Mitchell captures the loneliness and insecurities of being a teenage outcast. This brought back memories, not necessarily pleasant, of my own teenage experiences of budding romance and angst. Although by this point, I got that this person isn’t going to escape either, I found myself rooting for each character just like in watching a horror film.

I really liked that there was a science fiction element to the book, which gets explained more during the final two chapters. We learn more about what is actually going on with the house and how the responsible characters came to exist. It definitely elevated the book beyond the horror of the first three chapters into something else. However, I questioned if there was too much exposition, that possibly this could have been an even stronger book if we hadn’t learned so much about the reasons for the house’s existence.

The ending felt pretty abrupt as well. I was definitely left wanting more when the book was finished. It is my understanding that Slade House is set in the same universe as The Bone Clocks, so I will definitely need to read that one soon in order to heighten my appreciation for this book.

“Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts! Please comment below!