Review of Dream Messenger by Masahiko Shimada

I wasn’t ready to take this book seriously. But I kept turning pages. 

I encountered jokes ranging from corny to laugh-out-loud. The writing possesses an endearing sloppiness. The book makes use of a convoluted pulp plot, and tantalizing suggestions of intriguing avenues never explored. It tosses off far-flung ideas, congealing in a narrative soup, through slippery internal monologue, conjuring chaotic and mesmeric recountings of dreamy events.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that I had found another Japanese novelist I’ll quickly run out of translations of, and one which would make me yearn for the ability to read Japanese. I wish this would stop happening.

Wasn’t sure at first. I got almost nothing out of the first twenty pages.

Getting into the rhythm took a bit. Subjected to the almost pure storytelling in the first part, the feverish, polymorphous, headlong rush into weird ideas, the sparse connective tissue, the dangling plotlines, latching on to character memories, commercial ventures, economic pressures, motivating factors, within the frenetic, riptide pacing, the skipping around, jump cuts, dissolution, hallucinogenic scenes, and schizophrenic stuff going on I barely managed to grip the edges of the book.

“In the perfect crime you got to make sure you’ve deceived yourself, or else the whole thing falls apart.” – This quote clued me in to the fact that characters were acting under self-deception, yet their actions made weird sense within context.

Characters went on to express and live by delusional sentiments:
“The point is that the world isn’t here for the sake of some vast thing like the British Empire. it’s here for children to play with.”

And yet, in their manifold delusions, they often thrive in this dream-logic-bound setting.
We are treated to an atmospheric evocation of Tokyo low life, taking in the sights and the sounds, for which I was immediately on board. “Tokyo is an amnesiac city set in a desert. Things that happened yesterday are already covered with shifting sand.” Enter the theme of absent consequences, of irresponsibility. Move to shared dreams, personal versions of reality, ennui, greed, corruption, whimsy, madness, buried myths, companionship, prostitution.

It was clever, quirky, unpredictable, slightly disturbing, taboo-breaking, rude, politically incorrect, downright deplorable, dripping with 90s nostalgia. I loved it.

You find imaginary friends, psychological aberrations, astral projections, until it resolves into a recipe which is quintessentially Murakamiesque. We are led down tributaries to glimpse hidden worlds. Given insights into outsider culture, everyday life, the city as a mysterious organism, orphanhood, cultural migration, identity, Americanization, countercultural movement, spirit guardians, lost twins, Buddhism.

I am left breathless from the immersive quality of Masahiko Shimada’s writing style. It’s easy, fun, a perfect imitation of one of my favorite authors. I’ve already started his only other English book-length translation: Death by Choice. Expecting great things.

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