I like David Mitchell. Of modern writers, I think, hands down, he is one of the best. Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet are two of my favorite novels of recent time. Black Swan Green is a fantastic British coming of age novel set in the early-to-mid 80s and The Thousand Autumns, is a historical fiction of epic proportions that reads like a beautiful classic.
That said, I found Cloud Atlas quite frustrating. Cloud Atlas was composed of vaguely related stories that hopscotch across time and space. Each story, in and of itself, was stellar. However, the way the novel jumps from one story to the other, I found frustrating and unnecessarily difficult. No sooner would you sink into a gripping story, then you would get whisked away from it for hundreds of pages. Eventually you would return to it, but the momentum was shot.
As I get older, I’m not as interested in these challenging, post-modern styles of writing. I want me some old-fashioned page turning. Challenge me with ideas. Challenge me with stories and plot lines I’ve never before seen. Challenge me with daring thematic concerns. But flashy, stylistic flights of fancy leave me cold and distanced from the story.
For me, Dream #9 falls into the Cloud Atlas camp of Mitchell’s work. There are flashes of brilliance, but ultimately it was a slog to get through. The first 80 pages were particularly frustrating. I would have bailed if weren’t Mitchell. The book opens with the main character, Eiji Miyake, camped out in a café at a Tokyo business complex. He’s been estranged from his father and is now set to drop in on his father unannounced. He’s moved from rural Japan to Tokyo to bring this plan to fruition. For 80 pages he fantasizes about how this meeting will unfold. The fantasies are endless (80 pages worth). It’s a novel that refuses to get started. Given the dream like nature of the opening, one doesn’t actually learn that much about the characters, their conflict, or their back story. I had to keep reading the dust jacket to assure myself I’d get out of this never ending scene. Ultimately the novel does move on. There are some great scenes, but the book moves in fits and starts. Similar to Cloud Atlas, I enjoyed it while reading it, but I never had much desire to pick it back up once I set it down.
I still think Mitchell is an excellent writer and look forward to the next novel, but as far as Dream #9 goes…I read it, so you don’t have to.