David Mitchell's Number9dream is an American novel. It just happens to be set in Japan, with only Japanese characters inhabiting it. But it's still an American novel. Critics have lashed Mitchell for doing a touristy version of the Japanese novel. Fair enough, or, us critics being critics, unfair enough! So Mitchell's Japan is a playground for an American's imagination, but Mitchell has lived there all his life, and all his characters and settings and events are Japanese, so it's still a lot more of a Japanese experience than, say, the pseudo-existentialism of Lost in Translation.
The book, like Mitchell's previous, debut novel, Ghostwritten,, and his Booker-nominated Cloud Atlas, is hugely over-written, and that puts a lot of potential readers off Mitchell. It also puts him squarely in the league of American writers who love to hear their own voices prattle on endlessly—but inventively, ingeniously, and imaginatively. I'd put him safely in the company of David Foster Wallace and Neal Stephenson and even Bret Easton Ellis, among others.
Number9dream is very much a modern urban picaresque along the lines of Wallace's The Broom of the System, Ellis' Glamorama, and Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. It has the same hallmark qualities of a wild imagination let loose in an urban setting, utter disdain for plot and structure (though this usually conceals an over-obsession with structure itself), and a very male, very personal, very emotionally-rooted quest of some sort. In this case, the protagonist (a Japanese youth) is questing for his father, whom he has never met or known. It's a wild ride worth taking, and I'd strongly recommend it. Which is not the same as saying it's Mitchell's best. Either Ghostwritten or Cloud Atlas are leagues ahead. But then, they're not half as fun.
It also reminded me of another novel I'd read a whale of a while ago. A Taoist on Wall Street by David Payne. It's out of print, not surprisingly, and I'd read it ages ago. It was a massive tome, owing more to Eighties glam novelists like Jay McInerny and Ellis (again), but was also an astonishingly good read. I don't think Payne ever wrote anything again, but if you had to write just one novel, that would be the one.
Dave Eggers too. He writes the same playful, autobiographical musings disguised as a silver bullet gone mad kind of stuff.
But that's just me, connecting the invisible dots in my blogosphere to a ton of different books. In the end, David Mitchell's Number9dream, like the John Lennon song from which it takes its title, is an evocative, soul-tingling, soul train of a ride that is well worth taking.