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ISBN: 0-340-73976-2 UK 10.00 Sceptre
David Mitchell

I found myself extremely reluctant to read David Mitchells's new novel number9dream. I had read and enjoyed 'Ghostwritten', his first novel, but felt strongly at the time that all those who heaped praise upon him had not read Haruki Murakami's novels and thus were unaware of just how much David Mitchell was looting from the Japanese author. Nevertheless I did enjoy the book and was prepared to forgive.

When number9dream was nominated for all kinds of literary prizes I thought the same phenomena was happening again. Allocades that should be given to Murakami are being awarded to Mitchell. Now I have read number9dream I seriously think that Mitchell should, at the very least be exposed for his blatant 'flattery".

number9dream is a mixture of Murakami's Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, and his latest Sputnik Sweetheart. Is this appropriation? If his novels had come out simultaneously with Murakami's work, then we could argue that both men are working the same vein and are entitled to similar reactions and characters and even stories. But Murakami has been writing for twenty years and his work has been out there all that time, available for all to read - aand clearly Mitchell has assimilated them - in detail. Conscious or unconsciously.

Of course you could argue the similarities are because both writers are writing about Tokyo and other places in Japan so of course there must be common elements, but the similarities of characters, the situations and obsessions do seem to be lifted wholesale from Murakami's novels. Girls who love someone but suddenly go missing, women who go mad and live in far away clinics where the protagonist has to get to by a perilous journeyed write long letters about pain and guilt that always find their way to the protagonist. Girls with perfect necks and hidden talents, boys who work in a video shop (as opposed to a record shop). The fantasy elements are his own, but even here, when he does asides and one of the characters starts reading a short story called 'Goatman', we know again that Mitchell is raiding 'A Wild Sheep Chase' by Murakami, where the sheepman roams. His books contain surreal passages, stolen moments, a wild and all knowing Mafia (lifted from Murakami's 'Hard Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World') - it's almost as if one is reading a shopping list of borrowed scenes and characters.

All right, reading number9dream is interesting and one does want to know what will happen to Eiji Miyake and his search for his mysterious father in Tokyo, but when he picks up a half-read copy of Norwegian Wood here the literary borrowing eggs the pudding just a little too much.

On the inside cover of the book is the list of reviewers all of whom have praised this book. Lawrence Norfolk, A.S Byatt, Peter Ingham, Boyd Tonkin, Jake Arnott, Matt Seaton of Esquire... can none of these people have read Murakami? Is there no rule on passing off of your own work of fiction as 'original ' when clearly you have merely assimilated another's work, genre and city. He has even borrowed Murakami's trick of calling his books after songs. Norwegian Wood, South of the Border down Mexico Way; number9dream is a Lennon song and his character is obsessed with Lennon's song, just as the character in Norwegian Wood is obsessed by the Beatles.

When literature becomes sampling, like the record industry, perhaps creativity might wither and die.
Yes, number9dream is an interesting read and the events gripping, but it is sad that Mitchell does not have his own voice and his own take on Japan. Like Tarantino in the film world, he soared as long as we didn't know which Japanese stories he was looting. Pulp Fiction was an original take and Mitchel's number9dream has enough power and strength to exist on it's own, but nevertheless, can Mitchell write anything original without raiding Murakami's cupboard? Ghostwritten had more original elements and a neat trick of carrying one character forward to the next story each time. From this reviewers position, the author is so steeped in the master's work, he will not break free. His success is mere fairydust and sleight of hand. Mitchell lives in Hiroshima, let him write his own take on that city and it's demons.

Read Murakami - not this.
In May the New Murakami Collection of Short stories 'After the Quak'e will be published.A review will appear on Hacks in April.
© SN 2001

Readers responses to this review

from - against

Wed, 6 Mar 2002 10:04:38 +0900
Sam North, I thought your exasperated complaints against David Mitchell both hilarious and illiterate.Your claims are irresponsible and bemusing. I should just like to say here that many of the themes in Murakami are commonplace here in Japan. Murakami is a dreadfully overrated writer, both in Japan and elsewhere.
Yes, Mitchell likes much of Murakami, he has acknowledged as much in interview and alludes to him in number9dream. There are similarities in theme and tone but so what? I simply don't understand your complaints. Look at the all the big novels of the 20th century. Think of Lolita, for example, it is parodic yet exquisite.What about Ulysses? Have you been reading much? What is wrong with authors showing you where they have read. Big deal. Plagarism is a serious accusation and you should be very careful when you make it. You would do well to learn to spell too. Marc Williams

From Mark Mardel BBC March 5th 2002 - For

It is so blatant .. you forgot to mention WW 2 memories, a sense of social isolation in a busy city, concentration on meals eaten ..that I began to think it must be quite deliberate and that he's trying to make a point.
I can't quite figure out what it could be. He does even knowingly mention not being able to finish a book about "a man down a well". He must be aware of his debt. It's a shame because it is a good read in its own right and Ghostwrittten (less derivative as far as I can see) remains one of my favourite books of the last couple of years. Mind you, I wouldn't have heard of Murakami unless I'd been talking about Ghostwritten with a friend who's worked in Japan.

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