Eiji Miyaki has travelled to Japan determined to find the father who abandoned him, his mother and sister. A gargantuan task with Eiji not even knowing his father’s name or whereabouts. What transpires while Eiji is searching is at times bizarre, surreal, dreamlike.
The first chapter opens with Eiji breaking into the Panopticon building in which he believes that a lawyer there has vital information on his father’s whereabouts. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this is the first of many dream sequences, the reader will pick that up quickly.
Following chapters will find Eiji reading his great uncle’s war journal. Chronicling the suicide attacks the Japanese made in the giant Kaiten suicide submarines towards the end of the Second World War. Reading a children’s book manuscript while hiding out from the Yakuza. The manuscript is absurd, it is a children’s book, but the writing is beautiful, rhyming, I have never seen so much alliteration before. I get the feeling that Mitchell enjoyed writing this chapter. The lead character is a goat called Goatwriter who stutters (Mitchell used to stutter) and eats his own manuscripts.
Speaking of the Yakuza. They play a prominent role in Eiji’s search as well, as he finds himself mixed up with a young man, who inadvertently brings Eiji to the attention of one of the Yakuza bosses resulting in Eiji being drawn into the deadly, dangerous world of the Japanese underbelly.
Just like his previous novel “Ghostwritten” all these chapters are linked in a variety of different ways. And just like his debut novel he switches genres seamlessly. There are even references to events, objects and characters from “Ghostwritten”. It is all part of Mitchell’s multiverse. Half the fun of reading this novel is finding all the connections. The references to the number nine myriad. Wait until you read chapter nine. The major difference is that this novel all revolves around Eiji and his search and feels more cohesive than “Ghostwritten”, which although equally as good, does have a random feel to it at times.
Embedded within these chapters of dreams and journals, manuscripts and memories, the story of Eiji’s search in the present takes place. There are also flashbacks to his childhood and his sister Anju, who does not feature heavily in the book but has an integral role. Her death, a guilt that Eiji cannot shake and has carried with him for nine years.
Chapter eight is a highlight for me with Eiji falling helplessly from dream to dream. Mitchell describes it so well. The randomness of dreams, and yet paradoxically the connections formed between the same random dreams. This is a truly surreal chapter with the reader transported into Eiji’s dreams. His subconscious mind connecting events and people he has met in the last few weeks of his search. Dreams morphing from one to another.
And again, Mitchell’s descriptions of Japan, Tokyo and it’s claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s sights, it’s sounds and smells, is brilliantly written in his descriptive style. Not only locations but the writing in general,
“I sugarize my coffee, rest my teaspoon on the meniscus, and slowly dribble the cream on to the bowl of the spoon. Pangea rotates, floating unruptured before splitting into subcontinents. Playing with coffee is the only pleasure I can afford in Tokyo.”
I don’t think I have ever read such a dreamlike description of stirring your coffee.
To top it all off Mitchell leaves the reader with a thoroughly ambiguous ending. Which leaves the reader wondering, and I am sure that many people have different views on what has happened and what it means.
I think the only gripe I have is that chapter three, “Video Games” does not really work for me. I think the book would have been better without this chapter but that is a personal issue, others may love it with video games very much part of Japanese culture.